Deliberately Lousy

Toastmasters’ Feedback

“How many of you gave a presentation, and after it was over, you felt like: Damn, I delivered a lousy presentation today.”, Petr asks the audience. Every single person in the audience of more than 25 raises their hand.

“Aha,” Peter continues and the hands fall down. “And how many of you delivered a lousy presentation deliberately?”

A tall girl sitting next to me has a confused look as she is trying to make sense of the question.

“By that,” Petr adds, “I don’t mean that you did not prepare as well as you thought would be appropriate. But I mean how many of you have set the goal that you will suck at giving the presentation.”

All hands stay down. Petr looks at us and nods.

“See? So why then, when we are giving feedback to others in moments we see them fail, we do it with a feeling we need to teach them a lesson? Approaching them as if they did fail on purpose? Or even to make us angry?”

Petr is a president of Amplion Toastmasters. He opened this way an educational presentation on how to give motivating evaluations of aspiring speakers. But I think his approach is valid way beyond the inclusive and supportive world of Toastmasters.


It’s in the Menu

This Thursday, we went with my colleagues to get a breakfast at Wine & Food, a restaurant in Prague with vibrant atmosphere of an Italian marketplace. You can get there great coffee and the most delicious pastry. I looked through a menu on the table, but I could not find any breakfast options. I went to the bar for a suggestion. I looked at the charming waitress. Long black hair, shiny blue eyes, welcoming smile.

“Hi. I’d like to have a breakfast. Could you recommend me something?”

Her smile froze. For a split of a second, I saw an expression that resembled panic. But quickly, she composed herself and put on the I know how things work here expression. Without a word, she smiled at me and passed me the menu. The same one in which I was not able to find the breakfast options earlier.

“Thank you. Actually, I was wondering if you could recommend me something. Something with bacon, maybe?”

It did not work. “You can see everything we have here in the menu”, she replied. Starting to feel a little desperate, I was saved by her colleague who appears next to her overhearing our conversation. “Maybe you can try the scrambled eggs with bacon and cafe latte, sir?”

Finally. “I’ll go for that.” I was saved. But already a victim of bad customer service.


Feedback

I was thinking what feedback would I give to the dark-haired, blue-eyed waitress if I was asked for it. The direct version would probably look something like this:

“Hey girl, you deliver lousy customer service! Actually, it seems like you have no idea of what customer service even means!”

But – the direct version is also the version that is venting my anger and frustration rather than anything else. Would that really help if I said those words?

An alternative would be to give feedback with the assumption the waitress did not deliver lousy customer service on purpose. That maybe she was not aware of what mistakes she was making, or that she might have some other reasons why she appeared so defensive when asked for a recommendation. Also – maybe this version could include a pinch of appreciation. And would be pronounced with an honest belief that she was indeed the right person to provide top-class service to the customers of Wine & Food. If only she made a little change here and there.

It would be the kind of feedback that is would not be focused on my frustration, but at trying to give someone else a chance to become a better person.

And the kind of feedback that is way more difficult to put together.

It would look something like this:

Dear dark-haired, blue-eyed,

it’s always a pleasure to visit your amazing restaurant Wine & Food. You have an enchanting smile and with your eyes as blue as the sky on a summer morning, your presence just underlines the atmosphere of this place as very special. I imagine working here can get exhausting at times, but you are able to keep that enchanting smile all the time. I think that’s amazing.

Now, as good as you are, there’s an area where you can do better. When I asked you for a recommendation for breakfast, I did not intend to annoy you or to make you feel uncomfortable. I was simply not able to find what I was looking for in the menu at a first glance and did not want to spend more time looking for it. I complete trust your judgment, and when asking you for a recommendation, I am ready to order whatever you suggest without a second’s hesitation. The next time we meet, I’d love to see you better prepared for such a question.

I enjoy every moment in this restaurant and I think that you already are doing a great job juggling all the orders and serving the customers as quickly as you do. If you accept the role of being my guide on the journey on tasting all the delicious secrets of Italian cuisine this lively place has to offer, you will win my heart. And when you win my heart, I will keep coming back.


I’ll be ready

Which version did I give in the end?

Neither.

But just the fact I was thinking of it changed the way I felt about the whole situation.

Indeed, the waitress was not lousy at customer service on purpose.

And if she ever does ask me for feedback – I’ll be ready.


Featured Image taken from unsplash.com, used under Creative Commons Zero

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