Getting Candid Feedback. (Yes, it really is possible.)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Getting Candid Feedback. (Yes, it really is possible.)

Even though I wrote a book on giving and receiving feedback (Feedback Toolkit, 1994 and 2011) I still find it challenging to get candid feedback.

The past dozen years I have been learning to play jazz. It is very difficult to get specific feedback. Some love to give praise. Some focus on an obvious problem but don’t address bigger issues. Here is something I found that worked for me.

I had a teacher who played in the US Army Blues, one of the best jazz big bands working today. I was preparing an audition to become a sub in another band (The Glenn Miller Orchestra). Bill was very supportive and encouraging, which I liked, but I needed more. At the next lesson I played him a recording I had made as an audition piece. I asked him to listen to it 1. As if he didn’t know me, and 2. As if I were auditioning to play in the Blues. In other words, if he said he liked the recording he might be stuck playing beside me for years to come.

Wow. I got a level of specific feedback that I had never gotten before. He picked up so many things. I redid the recording and invited him to listen to the new version of these tunes. Once again, I asked for that highly-targeted feedback.  This round of comments went even deeper on some very subtle (but important) elements of my soloing. The feedback from those two sessions had a huge impact on my playing. I believe I was accepted as a sub with the Miller band because of those conversations.

The lesson for me was to ask highly-targeted questions. And then shut and listen to what they say.

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