Want to be helpful? Then don’t give feedback!

Brutal Honesty - only sometimes helpful

Brutal Honesty – only sometimes helpful

On Friday night, Linda and I went to the local.  I play there occasionally with the band – No Strings Attached – so we know the pub well. The owners, always trying to generate business, had bought a piano and advertised a new music slot. I fancied a pint and the opportunity to check out the opposition. A 2 for 1 deal.

Usual Suspects: The place was busy. We squeezed alongside the ‘usual suspects’ at the bar counter (couple of guys seem to be a permanent fixture there).  We ordered drinks and sat quietly listening to the pianist. Eventually, one of the punters turned around and said:

“How’re ya? I know your face.” I said: “Are you enjoying the music?”

“Ah great. She can play anything, that woman. So she can”.

”She certainly knows what she’s doing. It’s really good.”

Thinking that the conversation was over, I turned back to talk to Linda. Then, in the loudest voice that you could possibly imagine, the guy launched into a complete rant.

“I’ll tell you one thing. She’s 10 times better than the shower that were in here last week” (i.e. our band).  Linda twigged what he was talking about and then, trying to contain her amusement and growing excitment, asked: “How bad were they?”

“Bad? They were absolutely shite.  I never heard such tripe. One was worse than the other. They couldn’t play and they couldn’t sing a f***ing note.”

“Was their material any good?” She was openly laughing now, unable to contain herself. This was turning into the best night of her life.

“Brutal. You wouldn’t know any of the stuff. Even if you did, you wouldn’t recognise it.  I’m telling ya, a f***ing car crash.”

I told him I was part of the band he was slagging. He was so pissed he didn’t even hear the comment and  repeated the whole thing again, slightly louder.  Even now, days later, Linda still seems so cheerful. Was that feedback? Yes. Was it helpful? No!

Purple Patch: When elite sportspeople are going through a good spell, they call it a purple patch. I’m not sure what the opposite of a purple patch is (a blue period?) but I’m in the middle of one right now. My golf game is reminiscent of the quip by Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”   Now, on one level, this has no downside whatsoever. No child has died. No country is at risk of invasion. You Tube hasn’t crashed, losing the video of your granny’s inaugural skateboard lesson. But, on a personal level, it’s immensely frustrating.

Sound Advise: I was down on the Bull Island, hacking away, playing alongside a guy,  I’d never met.  Before we went out, I told him I was trying something different. It would help to set his expectations low (like the recipe for a happy marriage). He was quite tolerant for about 9 minutes. Kept his counsel. Then, when he just couldn’t contain himself any longer,  offered the following advise: “It will take at least 400 hours to change your swing. It’s all to do with muscle memory”.  

Maths Lesson: Here’s a quick math lesson. If you play golf once a week, for 4 hours, you actually hit the ball for about 30 minutes. So, 400 hours practice (as per his advice) is equal to 800 games or about 16 years of golf in total. The good news could be summarised as follows: You are playing tripe now. Don’t worry. By 2029, that new swing will have clicked in and you will be fine! Was it feedback? Yes. Was it helpful? No!

Say Nothing:  How does all this low-achiever talk apply to you? The message is simple. If you are someone’s direct manager, then giving feedback is part of your job. Don’t chicken out. In similar vein, if someone asks you directly and you really feel you can help, it’s OK to give feedback – judiciously.  In all other circumstances, no matter how well meaning, you are probably working on your own agenda i.e. making yourself feel important or superior by giving advice to someone else.  Breaking News: You are not some form of human feedback machine.  Desist!

By the way, in relation to our next gig, just contact me for the booking details. I think there are still some seats available.


PS: Lighter Note…. One afternoon at Cheers, Cliff  was explaining the Buffalo Theory to his buddy Norm. Here’s how it went: “Well ya see, Norm, it’s like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers.”


WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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4 Responses to Want to be helpful? Then don’t give feedback!

  1. Tom Walsh says:

    Hi Paul. Thank you for these pieces, I always enjoy them.

  2. L mc Givern says:

    Hi Paul I enjoyed picturing that scene at the bar.Sounds like all is going well.LmcG

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