Issue #20: Learning to Share Feedback

This edition of Tailwinds is a bit more “off the beaten path” than my normal writing, and certainly my most personal to date. I saw behavior in a person that made me the angriest I had ever been. So much so, that I shared my feedback with them. In hindsight, I think I could have done better.

As a student at University of Portland, I was in a business group of about forty members that met every Sunday and organized events around volunteering, personal and professional development, and listening to guest speakers. When new members wanted to join, they would undergo an interview conducted by three selected members of the group while the rest of the group members observed.

Spring of my junior year we were interviewing new members, and one of the chosen interviewers started asking very intricate, technical questions about Word and Excel to these new members, who were mostly first year students. Each interviewee was confused and stumbled with their answers to these questions. Nobody but the interviewer knew the answers. After each answer, he described how one could use obscure shortcuts and functions only he was familiar with. I looked around the room to see other members confused by the questions. Some were annoyed, others like myself were appalled. The new members were clearly embarrassed in a process that was already stressful enough.

When the interview was completed, the interviewees left the room and we were left to talk among ourselves. I was the angriest I had ever been in my life. Those questions were asked with the intention of humiliating the interviewees in front of the group.

I walked to the front of the room where this interviewer was and told him, “I don’t think those questions were fair of you to ask. I don’t even know the answers to those questions and they obviously weren’t going to either. Those questions embarrassed them and I think you know it.” He replied, raising his voice so everyone could hear, saying they were important things for them to learn and as future professionals they should know the answers. The room fell silent as all other conversation stopped. My face turned hot, this was not going the way I hoped it would. Everyone was now watching the two of us going back and forth.

As we finished talking and I walked back to my seat, I could hear him talking to his friends about how much of an asshole I had just been to him. Other members told him they supported my stance and that he should apologize, but their comments fell on deaf ears.

This was an incredible lesson on giving feedback, one I’ll always remember. What I should have done was ask to speak with him outside the room, rather than starting the conversation with the whole group behind him. Instead, the situation spiraled out of control and I ended up embarrassing myself in the process. I am a very calm person and have never raised my voice at anyone and I didn’t with him, but I knew I could have done better.

I’m glad I stood up. Something needed to be said and I do not regret calling out his behavior. But there were plenty of ways to share feedback in a smoother, more discrete, and constructive manner. The way I handled it was a mistake, but I am now better equipped to share feedback in the future because of this experience. Every mistake is a chance for personal growth and learning. I am ultimately glad I made this one.

What stories of personal growth do you have? Please feel free to reply to this email our reach out to share your stories, I’d love to hear them.

Capital Notes

  • Tim Ludwig shares his thoughts on broker deals vs direct outreach on Twitter.

  • Grayson Morris, co-host of The Alternative Investor and partner of Stables Partners, buys a company and talks about it in this excellent podcast episode.

  • I found this interesting survey on Searchfunder.com on searchers using databases in their search and how useful they were. Small sample size (23 searchers) but interesting nonetheless.

  • Readers of the Tailwinds newsletter know a core goal of this project is to become a better writer. I found this interview with Paul Graham about his writing routine and really enjoyed it.

  • Matthew Ball wrote a fascinating article about Disney and the most important media businesses.

  • Unrelated to anything micro PE, here’s a time lapse video of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from 1916 to 2016 for my aviation geek subscribers. (myself included)

If you found an interesting article, podcast, or interview that I missed, please let me know, I’m always looking for interesting stuff.

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