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April 11, 2023

Mission Multiplier: Fearless Feedback Without Fear

Jane Pfeiffer

Hello, I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and president of FieldTrip. FieldTrip is a marketing and branding firm that specializes in working with nonprofits and purpose driven organizations. And to close the gap between the people that they support or the people that might be able to support their mission, or close the gap between their current reality and what’s possible and where they’re trying to go in their vision. What fills that gap is very expensive because it’s the cost of lost opportunities, and those costs are incurred because people don’t know about them. They don’t understand what you do, or even if the work that you do is relevant to them. And they definitely don’t see them as themselves or as part of your mission. So those are some of the problems that we work to solve.

Today I’m reminded that oftentimes we are so close to the work that we do that there is something, you know, really obvious that just gets missed. That happened to me last week. A few months ago, I did one of these videos about the fearless feedback process, how it works, what it means, and so being very close to it, I know what is expected. And so oftentimes in working with prospective clients, we’ll get the question, “what is it like to work with you?” Well, it’s hard to talk about yourself in a way that doesn’t seem like bragging, right? So we’ve drafted a couple of key things and goals that we have in that working relationship, things like, part of our responsibility is to bring outside perspectives into an organization and to continue to do that, not just at our store.

Secondly is the work that we do, and working with us should make Fieldtrip a place that you want to be not because you have to, not because there’s a contract, because it’s that rewarding and candidly enjoyable. And then one of the ways that we make that happen is our commitment to fearless feedback.

The first time I was asked, “Well, what do you mean by fearless feedback?” was in a way that there was definitely some apprehension. So when I explained the process, they recognized that really, this is not a call to be ruthless or an expectation that at every step of the process there was going to be encouragement of negativity.

They had interpreted the saying fearless feedback literally, meaning that we would be fearless in the feedback that we wanted, which could feel like a lot of criticism, complaints or suggestions. So with it, for this particular person, it brought a sense of fear. And I realized that while we had been using this phrase, it didn’t originate with us, this is something that Apple does in their customer service teams. We had created the expectation that, there was going to be this  don’t hold anything back approach, but the process is really about taking the fear out of the feedback, the fear that stops us from being honest when the the work isn’t as good as it could be. Our feelings might be hurt, we were inconvenienced or we just don’t agree.

Oftentimes we we sit on that and we hold back or we say something that maybe a hint rather than just saying, “Hey, you missed this deadline, and here’s how that impacted me,” but instead should say something like, “How can we work together so that that doesn’t happen again?” It’s just a completely different expectation. So for fearless feedback, the goal is to remove the fear.

Now, the way this works is you have to state the expectation. When you’re giving someone feedback, either internally or externally or personally, you can always begin with the first of two rules. One: Is now a good time for some feedback? Now, internally, we say fearless feedback because that’s just a trigger to us that, okay, I need to pay attention. This person is bringing me something that will benefit both of us and I need to be open to hear it. So is now a good time? If they’re tired, hungry on a deadline, it may not be the right time and they should be able to say, No, I’m not in the right frame of mind or I don’t have time, but it’s important.

Let’s talk about that X-Y-Z time. The second rule is when you’re giving that feedback, just assume the best intentions of the other person. In this case, they missed the deadline not because they didn’t care, but they had underestimated maybe the amount of work that it took. So you’re asking, hey, I know you didn’t mean to inconvenience me or put more work on my plate, but that is the result of what happened. So how do we work together to prevent that in the future? It’s a very positive exchange, and that’s something that really, as humans, we tend to shy away from and we need to get over that because feedback makes us all stronger. It makes the work stronger and it builds teams. So again, fearless feedback is about taking the fear out of feedback.

Constructive criticism to simple rules–is now a good time?And assume the best intentions. That’s it for this week. But, do be careful about assuming that your good intentions–something like fearless feedback–means the same thing to others that it does to you.