A couple of weeks ago in the kitchen: “Okay, Bossy Beth!” Julia, my childhood friend of 40 years, poured a glass of wine and laughed at me. I shrugged, “I’m not being BOSSY; I’m just giving a little FEEDBACK!”
“Bossy Beth…” I hadn’t heard that nickname in a long while, probably since grade school when it was for sure “Bossy Beth.” I wrote and directed plays, assigned the roles, organized the kickball game at recess, chose captains, and gave plenty of quality feedback. I was 11, had some good ideas on how to make everyone’s life better, and I had not yet learned to preface with “I wonder.”
“I wonder if we should play kickball today?” “I wonder what your hair would look like if you brushed it?” “I wonder what would happen if you stopped talking so much?”
Ah, the beauty of the phrase “I wonder.” How we do evolve. Fast forward many years, and thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, no one is allowed to call me “BOSSY” anymore. Instead, I’m a consultant. I “WONDER” and give “FEEDBACK” for a living.
‘Twas a super-humid, high traffic day on the lake, 4th of July “Family Week” for everyone. We sat in neutral, motionless but for the gentle rocking of our boat on the water, waiting our turn to gas up at the marina. We were about fourth in line, maybe third—it’s hard to tell because a line of boats on the lake looks like the deli counter at Kroger on a Sunday afternoon. Take a number. Idle engines gurgled; eyes behind sunglasses pretended to mind their own business.
“Look at that sick boat!” One of our teenagers exclaimed. It was easy to see the very important man in his very fancy boat motor in and jump ahead of us, ahead of everyone in line for gas. Nothing sneaky nor suave about him. He just moseyed right up and parked in front of the pump. “Oh wow,” I pointed, “That guy just broke in front of everyone!” I stood up to get a better look. “MOM, sit down,” Eliza said, emphatically. “Stop pointing. That’s so rude!” I laughed. “No, HE’S rude! I think we need to say something.” “MOM, it’s none of your business,” Eliza again, exasperated. “Just chill.” Before I could reply, my brother-in-law, one of the “chilliest” guys I know piped up, “No, Beth’s right,” he said. “That guy needs a little FEEDBACK.” Thrilled, I laughed out loud. “YES!”
We had debated “feedback” all week long. Some of us believe we should mind our own business no matter what; others of us believe a little feedback is essential to improving the world as we know it. We tossed around lots of hypotheticals and bantered the course of action. “What would you say if…?” “What would you do if…?” The large banner hanging from the top of our dock, “NO WAKE ZONE” was a point of controversy with some members of the family while others added consistent sign language to reinforce its message every time a boat (illegally) flew by. Imagine creative gesticulations that form the message, “slow the hell down!”
Summer Feedback Case Study #1 (The Marina)
Gene jumped out of our boat and approached the very important man. We watched, waiting to see what would happen. Would it be the first very important middle-aged marina man brawl? I imagined Columbia fishing shirts ripped to shreds, flip flops flying, Maui Jim’s used as weapons. Instead, Brother Gene is the consummate southern gentleman turned New York commercial real estate broker. He knows how to properly deliver feedback. Perfectly casual body language, purely conversational tone, Gene introduced himself and explained to the very important man what he observed and what the general rule of the lake is with regard to breaking in line. He gave him the courtesy OUT PHRASE: “You may be new to the lake and not realize…” and to the man’s credit, he made a mild excuse and accepted Gene’s feedback.
I don’t see how doing things the right way is complicated. If you do things the right way with someone else’s well-being in mind, everyone involved becomes better liked, happier, and more secure. For those who are confused, bewildered, lazy, or lacking in knowledge, someone who offers you feedback is giving you a gift.
Just this summer, I watched almost every member of my family provide gentle feedback to people they do not know, trying to help them be and do better because let’s face it—it’s a competitive world out there. To survive, you must be willing to listen to feedback, and if valid, you have no choice but to improve.
Final Summer Feedback Case Study #7 (The Restaurant) I am sparing you episodes 2-6.
“If it says ‘hamburger’ on the menu, then it’s probably best to leave off the cheese, yes?” This is Alena, my sister-in-law, trying to send back a burger she ordered for her daughter. “Cheese automatically comes on our hamburgers,” the server retorted. “Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” Alena said, and asked to see the menu where “Hamburger” said nothing about cheese. “Look, if the menu doesn’t indicate cheese is on the burger, then just don’t put cheese on the burger unless someone asks for it to be added.”
FREEZE. Was Alena being bossy or offering really good feedback? You know where I stand, and I would add the following: 1.) Never retort without the facts, and if you are a server, just don’t retort. 2.) Accept the feedback and go get a plain hamburger for the ten-year-old who’s hungry. And hurry. 3.) Offer a free cookie for the hassle. Alena offered person-to-person feedback when she could have said nothing and done THIS: pull out her phone, tap on her Yelp app, and give her feedback online for the entire world to see. Doubtful her feedback would start with “I wonder…”
Lucky for the restaurant with the combative, cheese-obsessed server, we didn’t offer an online review. Instead, our experience led to a Seinfeld episode where we spent the better part of fifteen minutes (waiting for the plain burger) offering ridiculous stories and scenarios relating to the chaos of cheese. Lucky for us, we had a good time. Unlucky for the restaurant, we won’t be back.
If you aren’t buying what I’m selling here, then you are not paying attention to the world around us. Feedback is everywhere. I believe person to person feedback is the gold standard. It is an offer of advice without the entire world knowing. It’s a three-star review that won’t take your point system down.
The bronze standard feedback (and most common these days) is online reviews. Whether it is Amazon, Airbnb, Google, Niche, Trip Advisor, or any of the countless review sites that go to great effort to nurture the feedback machine, FEEDBACK is here to stay, and it just may be the new BOSSY.
In 2019, online reviews influenced 93% of all buying decisions.
• 97% of people read reviews for local business.
• 90% say positive reviews influenced their purchasing choices.
• 91% of 18-34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
The stats go on and on to show how feedback has become a firm information reality in our world. We may not like it, but if we can embrace it, there is enormous value in feedback, positive or negative.
If you are an average user like I am, then you, too, rely on reading what others have to say about a product or an experience prior to your adding it to your cart or making your reservation. Reading reviews feels like I’m calling a friend to seek a recommendation but without the chit-chat required before making my ask. Online reviews are efficient nuggets of solicited advice.
If you are looking for some entertainment, take a look at these “22 Online Reviews So Funny You Just Might Snort.” One of my favorites is the review of the book “Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat” that says it “Worked like a charm. I purchased this book as I was tired of people sitting too near me on public transport.”
While hilarious, reading funny reviews is a reminder that just as helpful as online feedback can be, it is still an opinion, it is not always just or accurate, and it is BIG business these days, which means you can’t trust everything you read. It is always a good idea to rely on a variety of different sources before making your decision or closing out your deal. When in doubt, call a friend, engage in the chit-chat, and get the truth.
Some marketing professionals have a visceral disdain for reviews. There is little control over the quality and validity of others’ “feedback,” and we like control. Invariably, for every 15, five-star reviews we generate at the schools where I work, there is that one adolescent using a palindrome for name who devastates the point system because he doesn’t like the dress code. NHOJ: “Dress code is a drag.” Oh well, back to work we go.
I may be an outlier. I LOVE feedback, positive or negative, as long as it is respectful and valid. I believe feedback keeps us honest, forces us to reflect, and ultimately makes us better for the customer and for ourselves.
I was thinking about giving myself some feedback and writing my own review. What would it say? How many stars would I give myself? How would I go about delivering it?
Here’s a start: “Beth, I wonder… if you shortened your blogs a bit, might more people read them?”