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Mayvin Sofa Chats: Episode 2 - “Let Me Give You Some Feedback” - The discomfort of positive feedback

In our latest Mayvin Sofa Chats episode, Sophie Tidman and Tony Nicholls, are back for more talk about feedback. This time, they're chatting about how to handle positive feedback and why it can be tricky.
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Sophie Tidman  0:00  

Hello, I'm here with Tony Nicholls.


Tony Nicholls  0:03  

Here with Sophie Tidman of Mayvin. How are we doing?


Sophie Tidman  0:06  

Yeah good , thank you. How was your day, Tony?


Tony Nicholls  0:08  

It was a good day. Nice to be in London. I like being here. Because where I live is very different, as you know. And I've just been walking through Kings Cross and down the canal there just thinking is a bigger version of Castlefield in Manchester. So just feeling slightly at home. Not that I live in Manchester now, but that's sort of where my hometown is.


Sophie Tidman  0:27  

I was walking through London today as well and I used to live around Soho and Fitzrovia. So I was there and It felt really familiar. And then I was in Bloomsbury, and that felt really familiar. You know, that kind of university campus feel, has lots of book shops and Japanese restaurants for some reason, often together. And it just felt like different, but also familiar. It's quite a nice feeling. I thought it was a bit like you know, Flanner being a flanner walking through the city as a sort of engaging with it, and also observing it from the outside at the same time. I've always really liked that feelings, feels very liberating. Particularly post COVID. It's nice to come back.


Tony Nicholls  1:10  

People in three dimensions are still got a freshness to it and I'm not sure I'll ever lose that now. I'll always appreciate that now. 


Sophie Tidman  1:18  

The rest of my week was really nice with client work. But I still felt being at home with the grey skies on the computer the whole time. The quiet, it just felt, I just felt a bit flat. So it was quite enlivening today, in lots of places in the House of Commons, having a bit of tour around the house of lords and things and which is amazing. Just the patterns. The the Gothic interior design is quite incredible. So yeah, it's slightly exhausting. Isn't it being, having all that sensory information? 


Tony Nicholls  1:51  

I mean, I've been sitting in a meeting room all day. But it's been a really good day, because we've had a really good meeting. And we've had a laugh, lots of laughs and felt like it was a sense of relief to be seeing the lighter days and, and to be feeling like the world's appreciating Mayvin. Through, you know, what we're doing out there getting some really good feedback, etc. So, lots to be appreciative about, which is, of course, is what we're talking about today, which is partly around appreciative feedback, based on the last podcast we did. A friend of ours, Carol said, can you talk about positive feedback and why sometimes that's difficult for people to receive. But we also talked about maybe well, let's let's broaden that out to being so what's it like to have an appreciative world view? So we thought we'd just chat about that and see where it takes us? Maybe there's something about progress made, there's something about we always have to be doing better. We're never good enough. So to hear somebody say, I really appreciate what you did there. I don't know what the percentage is, but a large number of people when you offer them that then make some dismissive remark about 'well, it was just nothing or it was somebody else or, yeah, well, it was a fluke'.


Sophie Tidman  2:59  

It's never enough, nothings gonna measure up to the enormity of what we face now.


Tony Nicholls  3:04  

And maybe sets expectations that they have to do it again. 


Sophie Tidman  3:07  

Also this idea of heroic leadership as well and having the solution. It just cripples people though, its so paralysing it's, I think it's such a cause of anxiety and also goes ahead goes alongside this idea of the ticking clock. Things haven't just got to be solved. They've got to be solved by, Christmas. 


Tony Nicholls  3:26  

They have this clock, which is the end of humankind, they have this clock dont they, then it keeps ticking ever closer to midnight.


Sophie Tidman  3:34  

yeah, is that the nuclear thing?


Tony Nicholls  3:36  

Yeah. Appreciative way of looking at the world. So the only way I found to counter the way that people react to having positive feedback, when they become dismissive of it, is to encourage them to just say, thank you and to leave a space, either in their in their own mind or in the in the moment to just hear what was just said, and just say, thank you and stop themselves saying anything else for a few seconds, such that they can create space for appreciation of what's just been said.


Sophie Tidman  4:07  

I did it with an action learning search instead of the end of a programme. And instead of doing reflections, well, I did reflections at the end of the action learning somebody's air time, but also reflections on appreciation. So somebody just has to sit there because they can't talk. That's the structure. And I mean, I was losing authority by this stage, because it was the end of the programme, but mainly people did it. And yeah, they just had to sit there and receive it.


Tony Nicholls  4:33  

I've used that. I've used that process when people are on such a downer about themselves, that they're not hearing so, okay, we're just going to sit here now and six people are going to give you say something positive about your presence today. They may not have met you before, but they can say something appreciative about how you've shown up today. And it usually ends up quiet. It's very emotional isn't a very emotional process.


Sophie Tidman  4:53  

And it's often when people are at their lowest ebb that they've got so much more to be appreciative about in terms of their how they're showing up because they're facing into it. That's when they really need to listen to it. 


It took me a while to realise this that I really like affirmations. And it's okay to say I need that. I think a lot of people do. Some people need it more than others. And I think it's very useful to go, that's what I need. And that's what I'm going to ask for. So some people needing more connection, or inclusivity, or control, and where you need a bit more connection, actually, affirmations really important, but I think there's a tendency to see it as a weakness.


Tony Nicholls  5:38  

I think with all of these things, there's always a potential shadow side to all of these things. So recognising that needing appreciation is a thing for me. Definitely. You know, the meeting today I've I noticed myself in meetings, making an observation, recognising that it's landed well, and it shifted some worldview around what we were talking about, and then get some feedback. At the end of it. I really appreciated that comment, Tony, that, that feels really good. And I need that I know I need that. 


Sophie Tidman  6:03  

Otherwise, you'd be at sea. Right? Isn't it? Like, I thought I did something good, then, but then it didn't seem to go down so well. And you just have it hanging over you. Like, it's embarrassing to bring it up.


Tony Nicholls  6:13  

But it was appreciative. You know, I was appreciated. My presence was appreaciated, my contribution was appreciated. And I recognised that that felt really good and I'm okay with that now. In the past, that would have been a feeling of, oh, gosh, I gotta repeat that now, I've exposed myself. I've put my neck out and now they'll be expecting more of that, good contribution. Yeah, so that's, you know, in early days of corporate life, it was 'be careful how much you contribute' Because you might spend more of it. And of course, does that embarrass somebody else because they haven't contributed because the hierarchy. So just noticing from my younger career, but absolutely past that, now, it's okay. So, if I've got something to say, and I think it's gonna be useful, say it's and if it's not useful, that's okay, too. Because I'm with people I trust that wouldn't hold that against me or laugh or snigger, etc. So, yeah, I feel able to take a risk now, because I feel trusted in the group. But equally, if if that became overplayed, and I was grasping for that appreciation, then I think then that becomes a shadow side where I start to make contributions for the sake of it.


Sophie Tidman  7:17  

I think there's something really important about appreciation. It's about valuing the diversity as well. So it's not. I think sometimes we think environments in binaries like, this is a good performance. And then there's a sliding scale towards performance. This is what is a good intervention in a meeting, and this is what's not so helpful. Rather than I think I was speaking to Martin, the other day, we were having a bit of a walk and talk catch up, and, and he was bringing an issue and he said, and I was like, well, what you kind of looking for from me on this? And he said, Well, you know, James would would give me some feedback on this or this. And I suddenly just went, I can't, I can't do what James can do. What? Oh, no, I'm not gonna measure up to James and then. And then I sort of just decided to just get over that. And he was very appreciative about where we ended up and the questions I gave, and it was an it was a realisation. It's, I don't, he definitely doesn't expect me to be James. He just sort of said that in a flippant way. But it's I'm not being judged on a linear scale. Like, a being appreciative for the different stuff I offer. That is unique, which is very freeing and I think appreciative inquiry has that breadth to me. It's not good or bad. It's like anything we're appreciating about right now. Like there's a freedom to I'm not quite expressing it right.


Tony Nicholls  8:41  

What we're talking about is positive mindset. And I think it's anything about that positive mindset, it's positive mindset, which is positive mental attitude is to just be positive, no matter what's going on in the world. And I just don't think that's the that's healthy. It's not real. It's not real. It's not healthy. And appreciatively mindset is to appreciate sadness, to appreciate pain, everything's got value. It's got a place. Yes, yeah, to appreciate the human beings and the human frailty in all of its guises, that that for me is what appreciation is about it's not to dismiss pain and suffering and the challenges we have in life, but he says we appreciate it them as the part of rich tapestry of life to use a cliche, rather than everything's, you know, just jump on the table and be positive, you know.


Sophie Tidman  9:27  

I definitely think that's the case with your negative stuff that is usually pushed away in an organisation particularly tensions or conflict. Whereas before, you know, if you talk about change management and organisations change comes from tension, you know, like in a great symphony, there would be periods of tension, right building up and then it would resolve it's a constant cycle, isn't it? 


Tony Nicholls  9:47  

Like tectonic plates, they're just rubbing up on everything, suddenly something snaps.


Sophie Tidman  9:52  

So actually kind of flowing with it and going oh, there's tension here, that means there's energy for change. Yeah, this is uncomfortable. Oh, what's the gift in that?


Tony Nicholls  10:01  

Right? How can you appreciate that discomfort, what it is, and inquire into it such that you're getting closer to what kind of what's going on here that either is enabling us or is holding us back. That's the, that's the inquiry, I think that's the space to go to. So it's, you know, brings in readiness model around teams spend 99.9% of their time doing work on task. And the suggestion is there or the recognition of, of high performing teams is that they actually spend some time also talking about how they're performing the task, their agendas, their meeting processes, that PACs, etc. And they also spend a private proportion of time talking about their group processes, their relationships are all with each other. When you said that, I felt this, can we talk about it. So creating space in organisations, for them to talk about how they're doing the work and how they are with each other is often the breakthrough, I think, starts to help people.


Sophie Tidman  10:56  

Yeah, the other model that I was thinking of in fact, at the same time was the bridges model of change, which we've been using a lot recently, for various reasons for, for clients, but thinking about beginnings, starting from endings, and before you get to a new beginning, going through this period of being in the wilderness, which has lots of mythical, allegorical kind of roots and religious roots about literally Jesus being in the wilderness and, and it being a period of discomfort and suffering, but also huge, huge, hugely transformative and regenerative potentially, if we can really be in it, rather than you know, rather than as most of us want to do, push on through it.


Tony Nicholls  11:37  

Push on through to the next thing, your organization's it's the next action, the next objective, the next thing we need to be measured against rather than slowing down, just slow down, appreciate the pause, appreciate the gap and spend some time being with each other as well as doing things. And you know, when I use that model, I always counter it with you because because the actual numbers are 70% on task 15% on process review and 15% on maintenance, what we call maintenance relationships. I mean, you think that through 30%, is over a day a week, not doing the work? Well, no, it doesn't work that way. It's it's, it's part and parcel of the culture, and it's how you have conversations all the time, that's both task and review at the same time. So it's woven into the fabric of the organisational life.


Sophie Tidman  12:24  

and how much time is it costing you not doing this? The gossip? The U turns the assumptions? The angst.


Tony Nicholls  12:34  

The emotional labour associated with not leaning into the human side of the organisation.


Sophie Tidman  12:39  

Yeah, what have you been appreciating lately, Tony?


Tony Nicholls  12:43  

I think I just just mentioned, I'm, I'm appreciating the three dimensional life nature of life. Because we spend so much time in a two dimensional way now online that I really appreciate being with real people and other real people online but in in real life with them. That is just that fullness of of looking at a whole human being and having a conversation that's not going through a network cable somewhere or over some Wi Fi. It's really appreciating that and hoping that I don't lose that. 


Sophie Tidman  13:17  

Yes, we talked a bit about images of organisations, right and organising in our work, don't we? And I think organisations have become more 2D, increasingly 2D and being things being on the cloud, right? Where are we physically in our organisations like, you know, in a very real way, we don't use our hands very much to culture anymore. And historically, using our hands was very connected to brain development. Yes. So can we can we just grow our brains independently? So I'm very interested in this idea of the essential in, in organisations essential present, like, you know, what's real to us? In our interactions, you know, the, I remember the first time I had a proper job, and my visceral remembrance of that job. I was a consultant as an economy economics consultant. So, you know, it was it was intellectual work. The office, which was in Dublin, and beautiful old Georgian building in North Node, south side of Dublin, had this lovely lush red carpet. And I always remember taking my shoes off, I often took my shoes off. It wasn't a very busy workplace. It was quite small, a bit like Mayvin and just walking on the carpet. And that was my Yeah, that's what I remembered. But you know, people are physical beings. So I think I think there's something about really connecting that with that to make the work real. Because otherwise it would just be just bash loads of stuff off send an email with clients the other day, and they were talking about how often they just send emails and then and then they tell people well, you send an email, don't you know, don't you know, this is important, we send an email, because it's not real. It's not real. Because there's so many emails, everything's just become noise. So how can we reconnect to the present.


Tony Nicholls  15:02  

We talked about connection before content, don't we, in terms of where's the human relationship development in service of the task, rather than just rushing into task? And there's something I think you can do that online? Yes, you can you develop relationships online, but I still think there's something about meeting somebody in the flesh for the first time that that really moves that connection forward. And that relationship forward. And, you know, there's all sorts of reasons why politicians, and you know, certain business leaders are asking people to get back to the office, usually, it's monetary, profit oriented reason. But I have some sympathy in terms of encouraging people to at least consider how they meet face to face from time to time, and I think they are having a mature, almost organisation having a mature conversation about this. But you know, that's what I'm appreciating, is that three dimensional nature of life and the richness it brings. Yeah, what are you appreciating? At the moment?


Sophie Tidman  15:04  

Well, I just turned 40. Gosh, no, such I just, I mean, it's just numbers. So I don't really generally care about birthdays. But for some reason this has been in my mind is quite a landmark age and quite freeing. Like, I feel quite, you know, a lot of things are very settled in my life, and there's lots to be excited about. So I feel very grateful and appreciative of doing good work with good people, just the possibility. There's just a lot of social organisational trends that are moving, and lots of organisations are resisting that. But they're happening, and just fascinated to see how that winds its way and works out and how I how I embrace that.


Tony Nicholls  16:47  

I turn 60 In April and I'm appreciating some of the freedom that it gives me. We were talking about today in terms of, you know, what does it like to become an elder, if that's the right word? You know, I don't mean that in thinking I'm wise or anything. It's just there's something about that.


Sophie Tidman  17:08  

Yeah Hellena Clayton talks a lot about it doesn't she. 


Tony Nicholls  17:10  

So what does that mean? And I too, am appreciating the great work we're doing with clients at the moment, we're, you know, the feedback we get is, is humbling. And we are recognising the difference we're making. So I appreciate that. And I'm also becoming excited about what, what retirement might look like, or semi retirement or some kind of shift in the working pattern. That means I've got other things. So I'm really struck by your comment on hands. And so is that why I there's something about for me picking up a camera, I pick up a camera and something shifts in me in terms of it becomes a more like a meditative process. Because then everything is in the viewfinder. It's the viewfinder becomes my world then and yeah, there's something about appreciating use of hands. The DIY, for example, yeah, the messy plastering of machine I'm learning to do. 


Sophie Tidman  18:06  

I love how all your weekend stories are related to making something called plastering. Usually it's goes wrong in some way but you always do it.


Tony Nicholls  18:18  

But it's fun that the rest of the world sort of disappears for a while I'm doing that. So I get into flow in that process. But I'm going to reflect on this brain development and use of hands and whether that's an important aspect of being human.


Sophie Tidman  18:34  

Yeah, hands, heart, gut. And I'm also I've got a bit of cognitive dissonance. And it's what we've been talking about. In fact, Carol, I was talking to show she was reflecting on you who instigated this podcast was talking about how brilliant she felt when she was 40.


In some way, I didn't even like the word 'in your prime', because actually, every age has something to offer. And I feel like I'm, I feel like in my 20s, I didn't know what was on offer. And I really know what it is now. Right? I think I was always trying to get somewhere. Just being 20, isn't it? But the cognitive dissonance is that things are falling apart around us. Is it okay to feel like that? Am I just being in my own bubble? How do I how do I be happy and fulfilled and flourishing and thriving? At the same time, tings are falling apart that I don't know how to. Maybe that's just being in the mess. 


Tony Nicholls  19:36  

Maybe that's being in the mess and maybe it's localising your perspective to who's around you and what the what the difference you can make closer to home to help people to seek help yourself? How do we localise and appreciate what's around you?


Sophie Tidman  19:52  

That's one of the key skills of Leadership isn't it was the time to talk about it's kind of like being able to see different levels of the system, right? Like you Yeah, I can see the global. Yep. But I can't often can't act in that sphere, need to act in a different way. So I can see different levels of the system and being different ones and how do I help system take the global perspective into the local transport Don't be paralysed by it.


Tony Nicholls  20:15  

Not be paralysed by it or not overshare. Because if you see what's going on globally, and transfer that anxiety to the rest of the organisation, you may well paralyse the very people, you need to step up to help you solve some of these complex problems. So there's a there's a judgement call, I think about how you what you bring down to the different people in your organisation.


Sophie Tidman  20:37  

Yes, we do that in Mayvin different times.


Tony Nicholls  20:40  

I judgement call and I think my sense is that if we, if we are open with people, we're and we listened to them, then we'll hear when we're oversharing, if that makes sense, I think it's the same with you know, if we get back to the subject of feedback, there's a choice to be made about what you share and what you don't share, both in terms of where you think there's a development need, but also where you can appreciate someone because if my experience is, if somebody's not ready to hear some positive feedback, you'd actually be quite damaging for them, they rejected outright and suddenly you closed down the relationship. So there's, it's a judgement call about what's best for me to share right now that's either going to pick them up enough, or keep the relationship going such that in a week or so or next time we meet, they'll, they'll be open to something else. So gaining entry. So do I have permission? To do what I'm gonna do just to assume that giving somebody positive feedback is a good thing. And the right thing you should do all the time? isn't necessarily, I think, the right thing to do. I think it's still a judgement call with appreciative feedback even because if they're not ready to hear it, I think you could damage the relationship.


Sophie Tidman  21:54  

Yeah. And appreciative feedback about an organisation can be some times threatening to the leaders of that organisation who wants to problematize he wants to scapegoat. Right?


Tony Nicholls  22:04  

Certain aspects. If everything's okay, what's the point of them? Do you have a process? So you talked about in action learning set, sort of saying, Okay, we're gonna give around appreciative feedback. Now, do you have a process? Do you have a way of talking to people, individuals, perhaps, where you see that they're not wanting, or they're not hearing positive feedback to you? Is there a way that you help them, appreciate the feedback you're offering them has been offered by others to them.


Sophie Tidman  22:31  

I think the silence like being quiet and just asking them to hear and being very clean in the language. So I see this in you. You're courageous, none of this quite. I think right now you're courageous, clean Language. You've very just direct, clear, we're sort of sometimes feedback is very, we tend to caveat it good and bad. And it gets away from the, its powerful sometimes when you just say someone, you're courageous. I see courage right now. When do we, when do you in normal life, normal life ever talk to somebody like that? Right? It can be really affirming. Or sometimes I'm just quite humorous with it, and just say, No, I don't want to hear now. Just take it. That's it. Right. Sit with it.


Tony Nicholls  23:21  

So I've noticed the authenticity in your presence. When you say that I can, I can, I would appreciate you giving me feedback like that. Very direct, very clean as a way in terms of there's no caveats to it. There's no buts. There's no nicely say quite courageous, courageous that that that works. And I think there's something about that's very different to how I was trained as a line manager to many decades ago, where there was a, there was a process that you use, you know, you start with something and appreciative to warm them up, so she can give them some really bad feedback, a shit sandwich. I'm glad you said it. Then you finish on something appreciative. It just just doesn't. 


Sophie Tidman  24:03  

Its like it's like, don't let them get carried away. So let them get up themselves. Yeah. That's not how people work. 


Tony Nicholls  24:10  

no, you know, I can imagine with that kind of, well, I know from that kind of fit, when your authentic authentic with your positive feedback and appreciation, then more ready to hear what it is they actually do need to think about in terms of development. Because they the trust, the trust is that and you've given them something to build from. You've given them a solid base. Okay, so I'm courageous. All right. So how do I utilise that courage in developing this particular bit of my capability that that perhaps isn't, isn't there yet? So it's it's it's appreciative inquiry. In every system, no matter how broken there's something that's working, so let's build from there. 


Sophie Tidman  24:52  

just really seeing things seeing people as they are. I think it's very powerful. Like when you're usually giving that feedback, I didn't know their face takes some a bit of a new dimension, you look a bit different, you notice something different about them.


Tony Nicholls  25:05  

So often the reaction is tears, which says so much about how we don't appreciate people in society, and that we're always knocking them down and they're never good enough. You're never good enough.


Sophie Tidman  25:17  

Total surprise as well. I've really appreciated how free this conversation has felt, with the wine


Tony Nicholls  25:26  

with the wine, which I noticed you finished before me.


Sophie Tidman  25:29  

well I think we've really settled into a bit of rhythm.


Tony Nicholls  25:34  

I appreciate the conversation today. 


Sophie Tidman  25:37  

Nice book end to the day.


Tony Nicholls  25:39  

So thank you to Carol for suggesting it and thank you for the company and the conversation. I think that's us. 


Sophie Tidman  25:48  

Thank you, Tony.


Tony Nicholls  25:49  

Thank you. Bye. Bye.

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