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Feedback is a Gift

“If, on occasion, the knowledge brought by science leads to an unhappy end, this is not to the discredit of science but is rather an indication of an imperfect ability to use wisely the gifts placed within our hands.”     –Polykarp Kusch

Tis the season.  Time to make the list, choose the perfect gift, wrap it up, and give it to the lucky receiver.  I cannot help but draw an analogy to client feedback.  It is a gift.  Like the perfect gift, there was a great deal of thought that went into its choosing – matching the purchase to the person.  And just like a gift all wrapped up in a bow, how it will be received depends upon what’s inside.

Will the client be happy?  Will they use the gift?  If the feedback is positive, and the client feels they got what they were hoping to out of the experience and developed new insights, they will be happy.  The best gifts are those that are from the heart, well thought out and matched with the person.  Sometimes, happiness is because the gift is more than what was asked for, but it hadn’t been really thought possible. The gift provides a fresh perspective. This is our ultimate goal – consulting flawlessly to be truly helpful, to be a gift.

Will the client be surprised or upset?  If the feedback is inconsistent with the goals, the discovery process and the conversations you’ve had along the way, the client may be taken totally off guard.  When we receive a gift that totally surprises us, it takes awhile to determine how to react.  The initial reaction can be deceiving, and often does not fully express the recipient’s feelings toward the gift, only the feeling of being surprised.  Often, we will hear someone ask, “Do you like it?”  And often, an awkward silence follows with a sheepish grin and a tentative, ‘of course I do.’  Perhaps you thought you understood what would make a good gift for the individual, but was actually misinterpreted.

Will the client be indifferent?  Sometimes there is no anticipation and no surprise at what is inside the box.  Every Christmas my husband gets caught up in the sales and buys his own gifts then gives them to me to wrap for him.  In consulting, we call this collusion.  The client expresses what they want and we give them exactly that, without trying to further explore if there is a gift that better suits.  The client may get exactly what was on the list, but next year the list will be the same because they haven’t had experience with something that is better suited to their needs.

As we wind up the consulting process and provide our feedback, I am considering the gift I am giving the client.  It has to be more than a pretty package.  It must not elicit an awkward silence.  It has to be something a little unexpected, but perfectly tailored to their needs.  Am I providing the best opportunity to use wisely the gifts I place within their hands?

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2 Responses to “Feedback is a Gift”

  1. I love this post, Joanne. You hit on all the key aspects to receiving gifts, not just giving them. We, as consultants, need to gaugae the gift to the person and help them with receiving it if it is not something we think they are expecting.. or something they need but dont know it (like new socks).

  2. Hi, Joanne,

    I’m choosing this post on which to leave my end-of-semester comments, but I could just as easily choose any of them — you have filled your blog with big ideas that are well-expressed and designed to elicit a response in the reader. Thank you for your conscientious attention to your own learning through reflective practice and to the learning of others who may be your readers! I do thoroughly enjoy your writing.

    This is a particularly intriguing post on the nature of gifts and gift-giving. I could just as easily substitute the word “student” for “client” and what you have written would be very poignant for someone in my role of providing feedback to learners. The feedback I give is difficult to choose and deliver wisely, sometimes surprising to the recipient, and often takes time for the receiver to process. Ultimately, though, my hope is that the gift is received as it is intended — to be helpful and developmental. No doubt gift-giving is an art, and so is feedback. Thank you for this thoughtful reminder of how much care needs to go into the choosing.

    I am also intrigued by your reflection on the embedding mechanisms of culture in the actions of organizational leaders. During the org learning class, I have felt you were consciously considering not only your hiring into a new organization but reflecting on many experiences in organizations in the past, including your consulting work with Carl and Chuck. It is said that the hiring process, in general, mirrors what a candidate finds when they get to know the job: a very deliberate, thorough, detailed process like the one you experienced is indicative of what will be expected of you in very careful and deliberate attention to the tasks of the job. If the hiring is long and drawn-out, so will be the decision-making in the organization. I’ll be interested to hear if you discover this to be true for you — that what you experienced in the hiring resembles the job as your tenure with the organization grows. Your extensive background has, for sure, enabled you to make the most of the organizational learning class. I’m glad you chose to take this class, even though it was “outside” of your concentration focus. Your contributions have consistently added to the depth of our discussions in ways that were helpful for all of us.

    The consulting project was certainly one in which you and Alan excelled, even though it may not feel like it to the two of you. From my perspective, the learning gained was significant, and your interventions with the client (through your questions) may yet yield important insights for her in how she works to create and sustain the situation in which she finds herself. I do have some sense of how personally challenging this was for both of you not to have the gratification of providing help that was recognized as such on the spot. Many times, though, I have had situations in organizations in which the help I provided took years to bear fruit! Occasionally, you even hear about it, later:-)

    Congratulations on a successful semester — the end is in sight! tjc


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