Culture of Feedback

The Ranger Department strives for open and honest communication and a culture of feedback. This applies to both how we learn from each other and how we interact with the rest of the community.

If we are going to improve as Rangers and as people in general, we have an obligation to give feedback to others and receive feedback graciously. The best way to do this is to lay out a set of ground rules for both giving and receiving feedback.

An important concept about feedback is that it is a gift. The giver must carefully select the feedback to be given. This can take quite a bit of courage for some people. We’ve all dealt with giving feedback to folks who don’t receive it well, get defensive, or become argumentative. Similarly, it can sometimes be tough to give honest feedback to somebody who you perceive as more senior or “above you in the food chain.”  This can create a situation where folks can be hesitant to give feedback to avoid conflict.  And that’s a bad thing.

In this light, we also need to ensure that when we’re receiving feedback, we are receiving it as a gift. Think about when grandma gave you a sweater for your birthday.  Maybe it fit perfectly.  If so, great!  But maybe it didn’t fit so well, or was ugly as sin.  Whether you like it or not, it was well intentioned. Like that sweater, you have the option, as the receiver of feedback, to use it, set it aside for later consideration, or ignore it completely. You should, however, receive the feedback graciously and accept the gift in the spirit that it is intended.

Giving Feedback:

In the interest of creating a culture of feedback, we need to ensure that we are following a model of SAFETy. In other words, when giving feedback, make sure that your guidance is:

    • Specific – is it clear what the feedback is about?
    • Actionable – is it something the person can actually change?
    • Factual – is it objectively true?
    • Empathetic – is it given with the best of intentions to help, not hurt?
    • Timely – is it soon enough after the incident that it’s relevant? Is the timing appropriate to ensure the receiver is in a mental space to accept the gift?

There’s a lot of discussion to be had around the concept of each of these terms. The important thing to keep in mind is that feedback must be about something that the receiver can change, delivered with careful thought (how would I want to hear this?), and given soon enough that it is relevant.

A very fine template for delivering feedback is:

    • This is what I observed
    • This is how it made me feel or how it affected the situation
    • This is what I’d suggest to do differently in the future

Some people have been taught to use a “feedback sandwich,” cushioning negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. In some people, this can cause a conditioned reaction to any positive feedback. They tend to shut down and not hear the positive because they are bracing for the negative that’s about to follow. (You did that one thing really, really well, but…)

Therefore, speak straight. In many cases, following negative feedback with something positive is a wonderful thing. On the other hand, don’t delay giving the negative feedback while you look for something positive to say.

Often it is also prudent to consider the location/environment when giving feedback. A public forum, or within eat shot of others, may be less effective than a private face-to-face conversation, phone call, or email when giving unsolicited feedback.

Receiving Feedback

When receiving feedback, a few suggestions:

First, remember that just like giving feedback is a gift, so is receiving it.  However, like grandma’s sweater, it’s not always what we want or what we are looking for.  Remember that the giver is trying to help.  Whether you take it or leave it, either way, please appreciate that someone is paying attention to what you are doing and is taking the time to hold up a mirror for you and to offer you some heartfelt, empathetic advice.

Second, ask clarifying questions to get the most out of feedback. You can ask for examples, interpretations, details, etc. The key when asking clarifying questions is to make sure that you are not being defensive.  Stick to the facts and see what you can glean from the other person’s perspective.

Third, and possibly most importantly, don’t offer justifications or excuses.  Receiving feedback is a chance to hear someone else’s take on what you did.  It’s not your job or cause to convince them that their perspective was wrong or flawed.  If you find yourself starting to justify, make excuses, or correct your feedback-giver, it’s time to walk away and reset.  Then maybe sleep on it for a day or two and see how it sits with you in the morning.

Finally, be gracious.  There are few opportunities in our adult lives to get input from a peer, so be sure to appreciate the person who took the time to thoughtfully provide you with feedback.  And as mentioned above, for some people the simple act of giving you feedback about something may represent a courageous effort on the part of the person giving it.  Please be sure to respect and acknowledge it with a genuine “Thank You.”

Escalating Feedback

Sometimes, you may not wish to deliver your feedback directly. Did your partner engage in some un-Rangerly behavior (See “Un-Rangerly Behavior”) and you’re uncomfortable discussing it with them? Is your shift over and now you feel that some act or behavior was inappropriate? It is always acceptable, for any reason, to seek out a Shift Lead or a Personnel Manager to give your feedback or fill out the Ranger Feedback form. These discussions are taken very seriously and are kept confidential. Of course, it’s always great to give good news to Shift Leads and the Personnel Manager too!

If, after the event is over, something occurs to you, whether positive or negative, please contact the Personnel Manager at ranger-personnel@burningman.org.

Hard Conversations

Adapted from content by Shir Nir and Lauren Zander, Handel Group

Good communication is what makes an organization work and in most organizations is insufficient. Most of us don’t communicate the most important things and don’t deal with the hard conversations. We choose to gossip or ignore or sweep things under the carpet. We get irritated and upset with people and that leads to a decrease in relationships, communication, and an ability to collaborate, be happy and produce results. We make excuses and justifications that it will not make a difference and tell ourselves that we can deal with it or that it will go away, but it never does and never works. At some point we may explode or leave, simply because we didn’t deal with the real problems. Since effective communication and relationships are the most important aspect of an organization, we have created a process to give people a way to have the hard conversations.

  1. Create a script before having a conversation. Every conversation exists in a context/frame and if you don’t design and create it with the other person they might have a different one. The frame should include the following:
    • Identify the intention of the conversation and state it clearly; i.e. “By the end of this conversation…”
    • Get clear about why this is a difficult conversation for you. i.e. Fear you will be hurt or hurt the other person, scared you will be fired or retaliated against, worried the person with leave, etc.
    • Get clear about what you need to say and how you should say it.
    • Don’t assume you know the truth, they have theirs and you have yours.
    • Make it about how you feel not about what they did; they can’t argue about how you feel.
  2. Ask for permission to have the conversation with them
  3. Set up enough time and don’t have these conversations walking down the hallway
  4. Don’t argue with them
  5. Make agreements at the end and make sure you are resolved or ask to have another conversation
  6. Make and get promises and consequences if appropriate.
  7. Don’t have this conversation unless you believe that it will work. If you have negative theories about it, you will fail.

How to Talk About an Issue

I need to talk to someone about an issue on playa. My issue is about…

…someone on my Ranger shift:

Talk to Shift Lead, OOD (after shift or at HQ), or any Green Dot Ranger, or Personnel Manager (ask HQ to page)

… someone other situation:

Talk to Shift Lead, OOD (after shift or at HQ), or any Green Dot Ranger, or Personnel Manager (ask HQ to page)

… someone on my Alpha shift:

Talk to the Mentor Cadre (after Alpha shift or at HQ) or Personnel Manager (ask HQ to page)

… someone at my training:

Talk to the Training Academy (after training or email) or Personnel Manager (ask HQ to page)

I would like to give written feedback or talk to someone when I’m off-playa

    • Fill out the Ranger Feedback Form.
    • Email Ranger Personnel (ranger-personnel at burningman dot org).
    • Email the relevant Cadre (see the Black Rock Ranger Organization section for a list of cadre addresses).

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