Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Feedback lessons from American Idol

Feedback lessons from American Idol
Posted by Heather Stagl
February 3, 2009

Like millions of others, I enjoy American Idol, but usually only after they get to Hollywood, when they are done filtering through the bad singers. Last week, although they were still in the preliminary phase, I thought I would watch with an eye for feedback tips.

Lesson #1: Short of honest feedback, people assume the best of their own performance.
A friend tried out for American Idol a couple of years ago, and shared her experience. Evidently, there are several rounds of auditions with other judges before the final round with Randy, Paula, and Simon (and now Kara). Which means that that the judges in previous rounds passed all the bad singers and crazy personalities by allowing them to think they were good enough to go on to the next round. If you think about it, this is not much different from every day at work. Lack of feedback – or lack of honest feedback – allows individuals to go on thinking that their bad behavior is acceptable and effective.

Lesson #2: Request permission to provide feedback before giving it.
The people who try out for American Idol expect to be given feedback, even though they may not agree with it. Otherwise, they stay home. If they sign up for it, they have to listen, or at least stand there while you say it.

Lesson #3: Modify your approach based on the performance and their attitude.
Watching Simon Cowell give feedback, I noticed he has four different approaches.
Beaming praise. When someone deserves it, he doesn’t hold back the good feedback.
Genuine critique. Contestants that have talent but need to work at improving receive kind words and specific suggestions.

Confirmation of doubt. When the contestant is not good but also not in denial, Simon says something like, “That wasn’t good enough, now was it?” He lets them down somewhat easily by simply confirming what they already know.

Direct and rude. For contestants who believe they are destined to be stars but who are truly untalented, Simon provides the response he has become famous for: direct, rude, and insulting. He tries to knock these contestants down a notch to bring them into reality, and if that doesn’t work, at least it makes for good television.

I’m not a proponent of being rude and insulting, but being direct does have its place. In my experience, the immediate response to direct, honest feedback is usually defensive and denial, but the recipient usually does listen in the end.

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