Feedback Gone Wrong

© Pete Longworth

© Pete Longworth

Have you heard of this magical place called the blow-dry bar?

If you spend a lot of time styling your hair, I’m warning you now: Don’t go there unless you’re prepared to get hooked and give them alllll your money. Here’s how it works: A saint of a human washes your hair (while performing a head massage, nonetheless), blow-dries it (if you have thick hair like me, you understand the delight), and then styles it (as if blow-drying it isn’t amazing enough). The price is more than reasonable, you can bring your laptop along if you feel like getting some work done, and, if you’re up for it, they’ll give you a glass of champagne. Yep . . . pretty much heaven on earth. (I swear this isn’t an ad!)

There’s a local spot that I visit pretty frequently. It’s my favorite place to go when I need some me time because the music is always blasting, the stylists are always smiling and having fun, and you just feel good the second you walk in the door.

That is, except for this one time.

When I walked in a Saturday not too long ago, there was no music playing. The stylists were all pretty quiet and seemed a little tense. I was immediately greeted by a woman I had not seen before, but I could tell by her presence that she was the owner. Let’s call her Sheila.

From the moment I shook Sheila’s hand, I had a bad feeling in my gut. (If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve learned to trust that ol’ gut of mine.) There was just something about her presence that rubbed me the wrong way. And sure enough, shortly after Sheila sat me down in the waiting area, I watched her plop herself down in a styling chair. That meant someone from her team was tasked with blow-drying and styling her hair.

Now, this isn’t the point of this post at all, but allow me to digress for just a moment.

I feel really weird about people who expect their employees to do things like this for them. I own a cleaning company. You’d think I’d have my house cleaned every day, right? Heck, maybe even two times a day. But I think about it from the employee’s side: Would I want to clean my boss’s toilet? No way. How degrading and disrespectful is that? Now, I should say that my team has talked me into using my house for training because we need more houses for our students to learn in. I only caved because A) the team needs my help, B) I’m rarely home because I travel so much for speaking engagements, and C) I promised myself that I would clean my toilets before leaving for trips so that our students won’t have to.

So the fact that Sheila is having her employee wash her hair, massage her head, and style her locks is red flag numero uno.

But it gets worse. Picture this:

While Sheila is getting her hair done by one stylist, the stylist to the right of her is serving an actual customer. Let’s call this stylist Laura.

I can’t help but notice how great Laura is. I secretly hope that she will finish with her customer soon so that she can do my hair next. (At the blow-dry bar, you are assigned to the next available stylist.) Sure enough, Laura’s customer leaves, hair looking beautiful. I stand up because I’m the only one in the waiting area and I assume I’m going to be called over to Laura’s chair. However, as soon as I stand up, I hear Sheila tell Laura that she needs to speak to her about something. I can tell by Sheila’s tone that whatever it is, it isn’t good—and that I should probably sit back down because it’s going to be awhile.

Their conversation went something like this:

Sheila, who is in the middle of getting her hair flat-ironed: “So, Laura, how long have you been with us?”

Laura, who is standing awkwardly next to her: “About 6 months, I believe.”

Sheila: “Yes, and 6 months is a long time, isn’t it? Which is why I am a little disappointed about this . . .

Sheila reaches for her phone and proceeds to show Laura pictures of a customer’s hair.

Sheila: “Do you see how flat her hair is in this picture? There’s no volume, and we promise volume. I had to give her a refund.”

Laura looks upset.

Sheila then shows the pictures to the stylist who is flat-ironing her hair. I can tell by Laura’s bright-red face that she is more than upset—she is absolutely mortified.

Sheila: “Laura, I know you have worked at many different salons, but I need you to do better and to be open to learning our way of doing things here. Okay?”

Laura nods her head. I can tell she wants to burst into tears.  

At this point, I’ve been called over to another stylist but I can still see and hear everything. As soon as Sheila is done talking to Laura, another customer walks in. Sheila assigns that customer to Laura, who is clearly very distraught over the conversation that ended only seconds ago. I watch Laura force a smile onto her face and do her very best to make her customer as happy as possible. While she’s doing this, Sheila finishes up and leaves the salon, not saying another word to Laura.

I haven’t seen Laura at the blow-dry bar since. I presume she quit, and if she did, I don’t blame her.

What went wrong here?

So. Many. Things.

Clearly, Sheila has some major growing to do in the leadership department, but I’m not going to fault her for the way she went about this conversation with Laura. She has #permissiontoscrewup just like we all do.

The reality is there are a lot of Sheilas out there: people who aren’t the best at delivering feedback and who hurt others as a result. Why? It’s simple, really. We aren’t born knowing how to deliver feedback in a way that is productive and that makes the person on the receiving end feel cared for. If I could have it my way, it’d be a mandatory class we’d all take in school until we’ve mastered it. I believe it’s too important not to master. When we go about feedback the wrong way, we can seriously harm friendships, personal relationships, and especially the relationships with our colleagues.

So, let’s try not to get too mad at Sheila, who probably knew no better, and instead take a look at where she went wrong and what she could have done differently in this situation.

1)   She gave critical feedback in public: Sheila spoke to Laura in front of another stylist and also in front of me (I was only sitting about 2 feet away in the waiting area). When we give someone critical feedback in front of others, we humiliate them. Instead, we should have the conversation in private and always in person, so props to Sheila for at least doing that. When we give feedback over text or email, it can be taken the wrong way because we can’t properly convey our tone from behind a screen. If it’s impossible to do it face-to-face, I suggest video chat. And if you can’t do that, over the phone can be a last resort.

2)   She made it a one-way conversation: Sheila did not give Laura a chance to share her own opinions and thoughts after she showed her the picture. She delivered the feedback, told Laura to improve, and moved on. When a conversation about feedback isn’t actually a conversation, the recipient of the feedback will not feel heard or valued. Perhaps Laura needed more training. Perhaps she disagreed with the feedback. Perhaps she had something going on in her personal life and was “off” the day she served that customer. Sheila will never know because she didn’t ask. I suggest ending with something like, “Can you help me understand why this happened?” When people feel heard, they are more likely to buy into what you’re saying, and you will have a better outcome.

3)   She had terrible timing: After Sheila delivered her feedback, she immediately asked Laura to serve another customer instead of giving her time to recover from the conversation. Do you think Laura’s mind was on serving her customer at that point? Absolutely not. She was likely replaying the conversation she’d just had over and over again in her head. It would have been better for Sheila to wait until the end of Laura’s shift to discuss the feedback. (Also, Sheila left before Laura’s shift was over. I believe that whenever you have a tough conversation with someone, you need to make sure they are okay before you leave them. Laura probably went home that night devastated, and she probably thought about it for the rest of the weekend. Not fair.)  

4)   She had terrible delivery: When it comes to feedback, delivery is everything. Sheila went about this in a way that made Laura feel attacked (and when people feel attacked, they can also become defensive). I’m about to rock your world with a feedback format that I learned from my good friends at Barry-Wehmiller. It’s called the FBI and it’s the BEST way EVER to deliver feedback. The whole idea is that if you want to give someone truly effective feedback, you need to include three things: the way you feel, the specific behavior that made you feel that way, and the impact that behavior had, whether it impacted you, the company, your relationship with that person, etc. I believe it’s also important to remind the person that you care about them and that you’re giving them feedback so they can grow. Here’s an example of what Sheila could have said: “Laura, I want you to know how much I care about your growth and development here, which is why I asked to speak with you. I feel frustrated because last week, you served a customer and didn’t put a lot of volume in her hair, which is our signature here. The impact was I had to give her a refund. Can you help me understand how this happened?”

Perhaps if Sheila had followed the above there would have been a different outcome. Perhaps Laura would still be working at the blow-dry bar. Perhaps not. There’s one thing I know for sure, though: We must get better at delivering feedback. There are a lot of Lauras in the world who go home from work feeling hurt and devalued because of feedback gone wrong, and there shouldn’t be.

I hope this resonated with you. If you want additional resources: 1) Check out this video I recorded about feedback HERE, and 2) snag a copy of my book HERE and really dive into Chapter Three—the feedback chapter!

Big Hugs,