By Parul Patel, with insights from Olympic athletes and sports professionals!
What comes to mind when you hear the word feedback? Does the thought of giving or receiving feedback make your heart rate spike? Does it fill you with apathy because you’ve experienced a “superficial commentary” on your performance in the past?
Whatever your reaction to the word, know that you’re not alone. However, unless you take responsibility for your share of the feedback dynamic, it’s easy for the lines of communication to become tangled, unclear or frayed, which will likely damage or limit your career.
With the right mindset, you can transform feedback from a weapon into a powerful tool that helps you perform at a higher level as an individual and as part of a team.
You’ve probably seen sports coaches lambast their players and athletes, and wondered how on earth they get back out there and perform. People respond differently to the carrot versus the stick, and finding the right balance to motivate is a skill you can learn.
For the third of our four-part blog series with Olympic athletes and sporting professionals, we’re exploring how feedback has helped shape their characters and careers (you can see the previous blogs here and here).
In just a few moments, you’ll know the three ways you can apply their insights in a legal setting (or listen to the Water+Air podcast) so that you can provide valuable feedback that inspires and motivates, and be more discerning about the feedback you receive (instead of furiously texting your friends! 🤬).
How to tailor feedback
Double Olympic medallist Georgie Twigg MBE knows the power of constructive feedback. Her hockey team imploded at the World Cup in 2014, but rather than focus on the failure, they got stuck into transformative conversations with a new psychologist.
Georgie: “As a team, we did a session with our psychologist about what each of us feels like on a good day versus a bad day; we talked about the signs that show we are in a good or bad headspace (and how best people should interact with us).
We were learning about how to get the best out of ourselves as individuals, and how other team members and coaching staff can get the best out of us depending on how you are. It was a big ask because we’re a squad of 32, and it made a big difference.
The coach told me that he made the selection process ‘tough’ for me because he knew that I was competitive and would fight hard to prove myself.”
While Georgie’s coach had clearly found a way to motivate her, former professional footballer Josh Low, who is now a commercial property solicitor at CMS, found his foray into the public eye at 17 years old a real challenge.
Josh: “I wasn’t ready for how it felt to be criticised by a crowd. I’d pick up a newspaper the next day and see that my performance had been given a four out of ten; knowing that all my friends would see it was really hard. It felt like I was performing in a goldfish bowl and always under the spotlight.
In the sporting environment, everything happens really quickly and you don't have much time to correct your actions. At least in the legal world we have a bit more time now!”
Can you imagine how it would feel to have every tiny move you make held up for scrutiny? At least much of the feedback we receive as lawyers happens behind closed doors and is unlikely to make the headlines or go viral!
Understand that feedback is not always personal
Although poorly delivered feedback can feel like a personal attack, people performance expert and double Olympic champion (rower) Mark Hunter MBE recognises that many of us are simply echoing what we’ve experienced before.
Mark: “Over time, you become more resilient to criticism and being able to understand the meaning behind it. You can adapt and use information to improve and get better.
Coaches give feedback in different ways due to how they were taught and their own upbringing. We are now naturally more cautious about how we help people, because there is more awareness around mental wellbeing; we want to bring everybody on the journey with us rather than make people crumble and want to quit. It’s an evolution.”
When Howard Stupp, former Head of Legal and Special Adviser to the International Olympic Committee and four-time Canadian National Wrestling Champion, was in training, coaches were quick to reprimand and correct rather than develop. It was a situation Howard quickly learnt to navigate.
Howard: “One of my teammates, Steve, was very sensitive to the criticism he’d receive from our coach. I’d remind Steve that he’d have more to worry about when our coach stopped criticising him because that would indicate he had lost interest in him. If the coach is criticising, it’s because he cares enough about you and your performance.
Athletes respond differently to positive and negative reinforcements, and it’s key to feed back in a way that suits each individual.”
We have a fantastic opportunity to evolve and give and receive feedback in a far more conscious and intentional way.
We know more about what drives performance and motivates individuals; we know it’s unique. We all benefit when we meet people in their uniqueness and help them step into their full potential (a philosophy you can read more about in my earlier blog 3 Secrets To Building A Legal Team Culture Where Everybody Can Thrive).
I am a fan of well-delivered feedback, it can help us see what’s in our blindspot. That said, Eryn Potempa, Associate General Counsel for Sports Marketing at Nike, emphasises the importance of accountability and boundaries.
Setting clear boundaries
Eryn: “Part of the importance of ‘togetherness’ is making sure that you're building a team that supports a culture of feedback, not just for the leaders giving feedback to their reports or their staff, but also the leaders being open and able to take feedback themselves. It’s important to know that feedback is welcomed without any kind of retribution. A lot of work has to be put in at the beginning to build that culture.”
What insights have you gained from our sports professionals who, to be fair, have experienced a massive volume of feedback?!
3 points to take on board
1. How we deliver feedback matters. Recognise that each person is different, and do your best to connect with the person where they’re at.
2. Before you give feedback, set aside any personal frustrations, take a deep breath, find your compassion and extend it to the person you are speaking to so you can help them perform at their best.
3. If you are given feedback, remember how difficult it can feel to give it. Accept the points that are helpful to you, filter out what’s not, and extend your compassion to the person who has taken the time and energy to invest in you and your career..
If you’re willing to start a new relationship with feedback and follow the tips our champions suggested, you could soon be on your way to your legal “gold medal”.
What resonates with you the most? What type of feedback do you respond well to? Click here to send me a message and share your thoughts.
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: