In Defense of the Feedback Sandwich.

I am a HUGE fan of Wharton professor Adam Grant. I love his insightful and entertaining blog posts, greatly enjoyed (and try to live by the philosophy of generosity espoused in) his book "Give And Take," and look forward to reading his most recent work, "Originals." But I have to say that I disagree 1000% with his recent blog post entitled, Stop Serving the Feedback Sandwich.

And here's why:

"The Feedback Sandwich sucks!"


“In regard to the Feedback Sandwich approach, I can see your point regarding its merits. It’s important to note, however, that this method is not appropriate for all situations and, when misused, can often be ineffective and counterproductive, and may actually undermine your intentions. But it’s true that, in many cases, when done appropriately and skillfully, there’s tremendous value in pointing out what someone’s done right, before pointing out what they’ve done wrong (or could have done better) – and then ending on a positive note.”

If you were me, which comment would you prefer to receive from someone who disagreed with this blog post that you're now reading?

Which do you think would be more powerful, impactful, and effective?

And which would give you -- as the deliverer of the feedback -- more credibility?

The first example (basically, "Your post sucks") is what many people, including a lot of bosses (and blog commenters!) do: They just slam you or flame you with their opinion of why you’re wrong and what you should have said or done differently or better.

The second is an example of the Feedback Sandwich.

The Secret Recipe: How to Use the Feedback Sandwich

In brief, it’s referred to, metaphorically, as a “sandwich” because the feedback (the “meat” of the message) is delivered to the recipient in between the use of cushioning (the “buns”) to lead in and soften the blow on one end...and to provide positive reinforcement on the other:

[1] The top bun represents starting on a positive note, for example: “Nice job on your presentation, I really thought your content and delivery were great.”

[2] The lettuce represents your transition, for example, a pause, or a phrase like: “One area of improvement might be…”

[3] The meat represents the main substance of your feedback message: “While I really liked your content and your delivery, I thought that your PowerPoint slides could use some improvement -- and here's how...”

[4] And the bottom bun represents your close, which might be something like: “Again, overall, I thought you did a really great job...and if you can improve your slides, I think your next presentation is going to be even better!”

The above message can be delivered in a brief 30-second comment, or over the course of a 30-60 minute two-way conversation.

Again, if you were on the receiving end of the feedback (*see David Rock's powerful SCARF model for more on that), wouldn't you rather hear what you did well prior to discussing what you could improve on? Or would you be happy with just the blunt-and-to-the-point criticism that the Feedback Sandwich-bashers seem to be advocating: "Here's what you did go fix it."

(Tip: I've found, from personal experience that the best and most effective feedback-givers ASK YOU what you think you did well and what you might have done differently or better (thereby initiating a dialogue) BEFORE revealing what THEY think. But I temporarily digress.)

Why I Feel the Critics are Wrong

Like any tool, technique, or methodology, the Feedback Sandwich is not intended for all occasions. That’s obvious. But when used by a skilled person, with the right recipient, at the right time and place, in the right situation, and in the right way, I strongly believe that it is a tremendously productive and effective way to deliver feedback.

Even something as simple as responding to a waiter who asks how everything was: “The food was delicious, as always. We did want to mention, though, that we thought the music was a little too loud -- which made it hard to talk. But, overall, we enjoyed our dinner and thank you for your great service tonight” – is an example of using the Feedback Sandwich approach to deliver your message in a polite and productive way.

That’s why it’s so mindboggling to me to hear certain experts in the field (like this one and this one) bash the entire model outright. I’ve heard it referred to as a “Compliment Sandwich, a “B.S. Sandwich,” and a “Crap Sandwich.” And, when used improperly, it is indeed! But, in short, I feel that the people who denigrate, discount, and disregard this model in its entirety might want to take a fresh look at it from another perspective.

For example, for those who refer to it as a "Compliment Sandwich" are clearly missing the point. It is not: “Hey I really like your new haircut! By the way, you’re the worst employee I’ve ever had...and here's why. But, again, you look really nice today.”

The “buns” need to be genuine, sincere, productive, and directly relevant to the issue you are providing feedback on. It’s not supposed to be a "compliment," and it's not about flattery or sugar-coating...or making it easier on yourself as the deliverer of the message; it’s about conveying your feedback in a way that is most productive, most effective, and most “digestible” for the recipient. That's a key point to keep in mind: As the feedback-giver, it's about the other person; it's not about YOU.

Therefore, a question to ask yourself before delivering your feedback is: Is the purpose and delivery style and wording of your message intended to beat the person over the head, or to help them to improve their performance? And is the manner in which you are delivering the feedback -- to this person and in this situation -- achieving that objective?

Additionally, regarding the "fluffiness" criticism, the thickness of the buns needs to be proportionate to the person and the situation...while taking into consideration your relationship with this person. Some people need and prefer a lot of cushioning, and some want you to "just give it to me straight." Sometimes a “Great job!” is all that is needed to start and finish with. And other times (in many, if not most, cases), more specific and detailed comments (including specific evidence and examples) are essential if you truly want to make the feedback meaningful and productive. 

When the Sandwich DOESN'T Work and You SHOULDN'T use it

So when is the Feedback Sandwich NOT recommended? In MANY situations! Including the ones Adam Grant describes in his post, as well as in the case of some of the scenarios described in the academic study he cites ("The Sandwich Feedback Method: Not Very Tasty").

For example, if someone really screwed up, of course you are NOT going to use the Feedback Sandwich:

“Billy, you’re a good boy and we love you very much. But we’ve asked you numerous times not to play with matches, and now you’ve burnt our entire house down and destroyed everything we own. So again, we love you, but you need to be more careful from now on so you don't burn our house down again in the future.”

“Peter, you’re a good guy and one of my favorite employees. But I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been falsifying pretty much all the data in your TPS reports. So I’m gonna need you to stop doing that, ok?”

When it comes to integrity or policy violations, safety issues, and/or serious or recurring performance problems, of course you are not going to “sandwich” your feedback; you are going to be blunt and serious and direct: “Peter, we have a serious problem here”; or “Billy, sit down...we need to talk.”

In those situations, you would omit both buns and get right to the meat. Cushioning your message here would be completely unnecessary, inappropriate, and entirely ineffective.

Similarly, there are situations wherein you might want to start with the top bun and deliver the meat, but leave off the bottom bun altogether (e.g., "I appreciate your effort and thank you for your hard work; however...this is the third time this mistake has happened and now we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed...").

So, as you can see, there are a variety of different ways to make use of the various elements of the Feedback Sandwich. Though seemingly simple to understand, there's an art and science to mastering it. And just because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution (what is?), in my opinion critics of the Feedback Sandwich are wrong to suggest that we should do away with this incredibly powerful and effective management/leadership/coaching tool altogether.

I've been on both ends of it, and I've received feedback without it. And all I can say is: Despite the "scientific research" to the contrary, in real life, when done right, it simply works.

Do's and Don’ts

Here’s a simple and common work situation in which it’s clear that the Feedback Sandwich would be a proper and effective approach for a manager to take:

Let’s say you asked one of your people – a relatively new employee – to write a proposal and then show it to you before sending it out to a client. Upon reading it, you find that the person worked hard on it, did their research, and got all the facts right. The problem is that in their haste to get it to you, they didn’t take the time to proofread it, and so it contains a number of small grammatical errors and minor typos. So how do you deliver this feedback message?

You can just bluntly say (as the critics suggest), “I read your proposal and it’s filled with errors. You need to fix it.” Or you can be sarcastic and obnoxious (as many bosses are) and say something like, “Haven't you ever heard of spellcheck?” can use the Feedback Sandwich: “Thanks for getting this to me so fast – I really appreciate it. Good job on the research and the writing. However I spotted a few typos and grammatical errors, so I need you to proofread it, correct the mistakes, and get it back to me within the hour so we get it out before the end of the day. When we’re sending something out to a client, speed counts – but it’s equally important to make sure it’s perfect and presentable before it goes out the door. But as this was your first time, overall, you did a nice job.”

Simple and straight-forward, it gets your point across regarding the necessary corrective actions, powerfully delivers your message, keeps the relatively minor mistakes in perspective, and – often overlooked, but equally important – restores the employee’s confidence and morale in spite of the (again, minor and easily-fixable) errors. As the manager, it’s important to ask yourself: Is the purpose of the feedback to slam the person for what they got wrong or to acknowledge what was done well, fix the problem, and help them to improve going forward? The Feedback Sandwich does all that and does it well.

“It Sucked”: A Case Study

Earlier in my career, when I worked for one of the major TV networks, my boss’s boss asked me on a Friday to write up “coverage” (a review and recommendation report) on a new pilot script and get it back to him on Monday. (*He was asking me because my boss was out on vacation). Excited to be given this first-time opportunity and wanting to make a good impression, I spent all weekend on it and had it on his desk first thing Monday morning.

When Tuesday afternoon rolled around and I still hadn’t heard anything back yet (as we know, silence is often the worst kind of feedback), I knocked on his door and said: “Hi Jonathan, I was just wondering if you had a chance to read my coverage.”

Rummaging through a pile of papers, he finally found it, glanced at it, and then frisbeed it across his desk at me, hitting me in the shins: “Yeah, it sucked.”

As he went back to doing what he was doing before I had interrupted him, and with the report I was previously so proud of now resting on my shoe top, I meekly bent down, picked it up, and slithered back to my desk with my tail between my legs, crushed and demoralized. I thought I had done such a good job, but I left work that day wondering if I should start exploring new career possibilities.

The next day, though, I still felt like I needed to get some feedback on what I had done so wrong. And I figured I had nothing to lose. So when 6:00pm rolled around, when most others had gone home, I somehow got up the courage to go to his office and knock on his open door again:

“Jonathan, do you have a minute? I was just wondering what was wrong with the coverage I wrote – I thought I had done a pretty good job.”

His response: “You did a great job! Your writing is terrific – it’s always terrific – and you had some really great insights. I just really hated the script. But, your report, itself, was fine.”

Um...maybe he could have said that the first time? In retrospect, what he gave me the first time was the meat; the second time, the same exact meat…but presented in the form of a sandwich. A Feedback Sandwich. So, although the outcome was the same (he rejected the script I was recommending), the validation of my work made me feel a million times better, and left me eager for the next opportunity to show what I could do.

That’s the power of the Feedback Sandwich in action.

So while there are a lot of different feedback techniques out there, all with their respective pros and cons, the Feedback Sandwich is just one way – a powerful and effective way – to get your message across...when appropriate -- which is much of the time.

Think about it. If you are on the receiving end, would you rather someone take a hot, sizzling, greasy burger off the grill and place it in your bare hands…or would you rather they neatly and gently present it to you between two nice, fluffy buns?

*A version of this post was originally posted on my Hired Guns blog in July 2014 under the title, "In Defense of the Feedback Sandwich."

Four Career Success Tips for New College Grads...or For Anyone

It’s the classic Catch-22 situation: You can’t get a job or change careers without the necessary experience … but how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will give you a chance?

The answer: find an internship, temp job, or consulting gig! And this advice applies not just to recent graduates, but to ANYONE at any age, or at any stage of their career.

Doing an internship, taking a temp job, or getting project work will give you practical, real-world experience, get your foot in the door (or get it back in the door) of the working world, lead to your developing some new relationships and new skills, and help you to figure out what it is that you really want to do and (equally important) what you don't. 

Earlier in my career, as well as at various times when I was between jobs, I worked at a series of (unpaid) internships and (low-paying) temp jobs. Some of them were interesting, most were pretty boring, and others were completely torturous. 

But without them I would, most likely, not be where I am (or who I am) today.

For example, during the summer between graduating with my B.A. and finishing up my master's, I did an unpaid three-month internship as a researcher at NBC. It actually cost me money to work there, as I had to pay for my commute and lunch every day, not to mention the costly dry cleaning bills.

But although doing that internship had some downsides, it had many more upsides: I gained valuable work experience and discovered some of the things I liked to do and was good at — as well as a number of things that I didn’t and wasn’t. I made some useful contacts, gained some invaluable work experience, built my confidence, got a rush of excitement walking into 30 Rock every day, and was now able to put “NBC” on my resume.

A couple of years later, after moving out to L.A., a series of eight temp jobs in eight different departments over eight weeks at Disney ultimately led to an amazing administrative assistant job in tv comedy program development, working for a writer/producer on the legendary Burbank studio lot.

Looking back, I can honestly say that each and every one of my internships, temp jobs, or consulting gigs turned out to be, in one way or another, an impactful and memorable stepping-stone in my career.

And they left me with some valuable, life-long lessons that can be summed up in these four simple phrases: Look, Listen, & Learn; Do & Try; Ask Questions, Especially "Why?"; and Build Relationships Now:

1. Look, Listen, & Learn
When you start doing something you’ve never done before, in work or in life, EVERYTHING is new: the people; the place itself; the policies, processes, and procedures, etc. So be a sponge! Take it all in. Every interaction, every conversation, everything you see, hear, and feel –- seek to look, listen, and learn.

Be alert. Be aware. Be self-aware! Look around you — up, down, and across. Step outside yourself. Try to see things from others' points of view. Seek candid feedback. Look for best practices. And worst practices. Take a mental (or written) inventory of Do’s & Don’ts. Absorb the culture. Engage with the entire experience. And maintain an open and positive attitude. Make everything that happens, every day, a memorable experience and a teachable moment.

While your time in this position may only be brief, what you learn, both positive and negative, could last a lifetime if you just pay attention. And, even though it may be far from your "dream job," as in the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” you never know where it might lead.

2. Do & Try
It’s one thing to learn by looking and listening. But people learn most -– and learn best -– by DOING. So seek to do, and to try to do, as much as possible. Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take some risks. Raise your hand. And be willing to get your hands dirty, even though they may sometimes end up getting a little battered and bruised. It’s all part of the game. 

Don’t expect to do everything right, or to be perfect the first time out. “Trial and error” is a common phrase for a reason. That's why pencils have erasers. And, as Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” The key is to have the confidence to do and to try and to fail. You are going to make some mistakes, so just expect that...and accept that. Knowing this in advance will make it much less painful when (not “if”) it happens. And if and/or when it ends.

3. Ask Questions, especially “Why?”
It is said that knowledge comes not from answering questions, but from questioning answers. So never be afraid to ask who, what, when, where, how, and (most important!) why.

You aren’t expected to have all the answers. So leverage the knowledge and experience of those who’ve been down this road before. Seek advice, feedback, coaching, and mentoring. Everyone had to start somewhere, and now it’s your time, and your turn. Be curious. Explore. Seek to understand. Dig deeper. And question everything. That’s the only way to learn and to grow.

I remember asking the guy who hired me for that Disney job why he chose me over all the other candidates he interviewed -- even though I knew that a few of them had better resumes than mine. His simple and straight-forward reply: “Because you asked good questions.”

4. Build Relationships Now
We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” But, in reality, "who you know" is not as important as "who wants to know you"! You definitely need to know stuff – we don’t want to minimize that. And you do want to meet and get to know as many people as you can. But the key to success in building relationships is getting people to want to know you. And that all comes down to building personal relationships, as well as developing your personal brand. 

Someone may have the highest intellectual intelligence in the world, but without emotional and social intelligence -– the ability to know ourselves, and successfully interact with others and develop relationships -– we are, most likely, not going to get very far in the business world.

So be seen. Be heard. Seek to become an "SME" ("subject matter expert") in your area of interest. Be passionate, and demonstrate that passion. Be interesting, but also be interested. Be recognized as someone who can add value. And someone whom others want to know.

But remember that when it comes to building relationships – in work, as in life – it's about quality, not quantity. Seek to form real, genuine, authentic personal connections. Be generous. If you seek to give more than you take and get, it will, (hopefully) eventually come full circle. And, if not...well, it's just the good and the right thing to do anyway.


One final thing to remember: While some internships and temp jobs and consulting gigs are stimulating and engaging and exciting, others (many) may not be. The key is to frame your thinking as, “I am going to try to make the best –- and the most -– of my current situation, knowing that it is just one stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.”

And keep in mind that, despite that common metaphor, most careers tend not to be a straight "path," but more of a "roller coaster" of ups and downs, emotional highs and lows, and unexpected twists and turns.

If you think of your career as a journey, and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to successfully reach your desired destination...and to enjoy the ride along the way.

*For more on this topic, please see my previous posts:

"Spanning the Decades: Career Advice for Every Age and Every Stage"

"Are You Looking for a Job, a Career, or a Calling?"


Is There a Difference Between "Quitting" and Being a "Quitter"?


One of my NYU students was facing a dilemma: A few chapters into a highly-recommended, award-winning, bestselling business book, she realized that she found it to be a boring and uninteresting waste of her limited and valuable time. Meanwhile she had a pile of other, much more engaging and tempting titles sitting right there on her nightstand calling her name. She was excited about diving into one of them, only to find that when she put the boring book aside to embark on a new reading adventure, she suddenly and inexpicably found herself feeling extremely guilty.


As she put it, “The culture where I come from is really uptight about winning. People who quit are looked upon as ‘failures’. And, so, quitting this book translated into a failure on my part. And this feeling of guilt comes in whenever I don’t finish something.”

“Always finish what you start.”

“Don’t be a quitter.”

“No pain, no gain.”

“Never, ever give up.”

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

“Quitters are losers.”

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” (Thomas Edison)

 “I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.” (Muhammad Ali)

“If you quit ONCE it becomes a habit. Never quit!!!” (Michael Jordan)

For those who grew up with parents, teachers, coaches, and/or other authority figures and motivational speakers drilling these mantras into our heads, no wonder we feel guilty when we decide not to continue with something!

But when is it ok to quit? How do we know when it’s better to cut our losses and move on? What about “sunk costs” that cause us to dig ourselves into an even deeper hole? How do we decide when to drop something and when to persevere? How do we determine whether to give something (or someone) a second or third or tenth chance vs. when to say, “that’s it…enough is enough”?

And, is there a difference between “quitting” and “being a quitter”?


Confession: I Am A Quitter

I’ve quit jobs that weren’t working out, and I’ve ended relationships that were dysfunctional. I’ve left many books unfinished, and I’ve walked out of many a bad play or movie. And I quit piano lessons when I realized that I wasn’t really very good. I recently quit eating foods loaded with sugar and carbs, and replaced them with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. And I quit reading the New York Times while laying on my couch, and instead now read it everyday while walking for 30 minutes on the treadmill.

So you can see where I’m going with this: When it comes to “quitting,” it’s all about context, and how you define and frame it.

In his classic leadership book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” legendary management guru Marshall Goldsmith explores “the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break.” In other words: there are unproductive and counterproductive behaviors that successful people need to QUIT doing in order to enable them to become even more successful, and leaders are often successful not because of how they are, but in spite of how they are. And, so, to get from “here” to “there” they may need to “quit” doing the things that may be holding them back.

While it is admirable to keep on keepin’ on, there is no shame in movin’ on if what you’re doing just isn’t working for you anymore. If you are not engaged, if you are unhappy, if you have given it your all and see little or no possibility of sunnier skies, then, perhaps, the best choice you can make might just be to make a change. As you get older (and, hopefully, wiser), you come to realize that life is short: Too short to waste on books, or movies, or tv series, or projects, or jobs, or relationships that you no longer find valuable. The key, and the challenge, is that – though you can seek out others’ input, advice, and opinions – when it comes to your life, you are the only one who can make the determination on whether to pass or to play.

It often helps to think about the fact that ending something negative – though leaving a void – creates the time and space for the start of something new. And that it’s hard to start something new while our cup is full or when we’re tenuously hanging onto the past.

So I’m not talking about quitting on a person who is relying on you, walking out on someone, leaving a project half-way done, or storming out of the office while crooning the old country song, “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.” I’m talking about when you reach a point where, after much thoughtful consideration and deliberation you’ve made the well-thought-out, considered decision that it’s time to move on.


Why Didn’t You Just Quit?

As I wrote about in a previous post (“A Love Letter to All of my Horrible Bosses”), earlier in my career I worked at one of the tv networks as an administrative assisstant for an abusive, sadistic, insane and maniacal boss who treated me horribly on a daily basis, including, one time, throwing a box of pens at my head because they weren’t the kind she liked. (They were medium point; she wanted the fine point.)

When people hear these stories about her – after laughing in disbelief and horror – they typically ask, “Why didn’t you just quit?” This question can best be answered in the following old joke:

“This guy works at the circus and his only job is to clean up after the elephants. All day long, day after day, his job is, literally, nothing but shoveling sh*t. And, then, after work every night he would meet up with his friends at the bar and bend their ears for hours complaining about it. Finally, fed up with the endless complaints and unable to hear about it anymore, his best friend exclaims, “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you just quit???” To which he replies, “What…and leave show business!”


The Learning/Enjoyment Matrix

Going back to my student’s story about the feeings of guilt associated with “quitting” her boring book in order to pick up another, more interesting one, it got me thinking about it in this way:

Ideally, it’s great when we’re able to spend our valuable time doing what we love and loving what we do. When we’re “Learning & Loving it,” time flies, we’re truly engaged, in a state of “flow” or “in the zone,” we can’t wait for it to start, and hate for it to end. This could refer to a book, a class, a movie, a tv series that we’re binge-watching, a project, a job, or even a relationship.

Sometimes, though – let’s keep using the book example – we’re not, necessarily learning anything monumental from it, but we’re enjoying it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, escapism, and fun.

But what about when we’re learning, but not, necessarily, enjoying it? Continuing with the book, maybe it’s taking a tremendous amount of effort to even pick it up again, a challenge to understand, and maybe even an exhausting struggle to get through every page. And, yet, little by little, you are learning something. Do you keep forging ahead…or do you quit?

Lastly, what about when you’re engaged in something where you are neither learning anything nor enjoying it? What then? And, what if it’s not a $14.95 paperback we’re talking about…but a hobby you were trying out that you’ve made an investment in, a project you’ve been working on, a relationship you are involved in, or…even your current job? Then what?

Again, there are no easy answers. And, again, only you can decide. But, perhaps framing your situation using this matix will help you to think things through.


Playing Quit & Seek: A Few Questions to Consider

When should you quit your job…and seek out a new opportunity?

When should you quit that bad relationship…and seek out a better one?

When should you quit a bad habit…and replace it with something more healthy and productive?

When should you quit complaining about problems…and start coming up with solutions?

When should you quit venting…and start in-venting?

How do you know whether to quit while you’re ahead (i.e., knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em)?

How should you quit (if or when the time comes, what’s the right way or the best way to do it)?

Why are you quitting (is it the right decision, and are you quitting for the right reasons)?

Who can you rely on and trust for counsel, advice, and support?

Have you weighed the pros and cons of quitting vs. persevering?

Have you explored all your alternatives?

Are you giving up too soon?

Or have you already stayed too long?

Have you given it your best shot?

Is it time?


The best distinction I’ve heard between “quitting” and “being a quitter”

In closing, quitting is never easy. It is often an emotional and wrenching and potentially-confusing decision with numerous variables and unlimited pros and cons. And though making the decision to quit something is a tough one, the decision to not decide can be equally as tough. As mentioned in my last post (“It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!”), I’ve found that being stuck in limbo is worse than anything. As the psychologist William James famously wrote,  “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

Perhaps this inspirational quote will help to reframe what “quitting” is about, and help you to decide what road to take or what move – if any – to make:

“Quitting is not giving up, it's choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it's realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it's learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you, so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” ~Osayi Emokpae Lasisi, author of “Impossible Is Stupid”

To sum up, perhaps by ridding ourselves of the mindset that quitting is for losers, we will realize that sometimes, quitting is exactly what we need to do…in order to win.


For a little additional inspiration and a burst of confidence-boosting motivation, please see my recent post:

Spring Forward…By Facing Your Fears and Kickstarting Your Confidence





Play Ball! 20 Thought-Provoking Coaching Questions from the Baseball Field (to help you succeed at work and in life)


To those of us who love the game, baseball is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life. A part of our language. A lens through which we view the world. And a training ground for valuable life lessons.

For example, when we ponder why it is that more Major League Baseball managers previously played catcher than any other position, the answers provide us with insights that we might apply to our own workplace. 

(Some of the key reasons, in case you were wondering: Catchers are uniquely positioned to see the whole field at once, giving them a singular, big-picture perspective; they are involved in every pitch of the game and need to always be strategically thinking a few steps ahead; they often act as the on-field general; they need to develop the technical skills, the communication skills, and the people skills to handle a pitching staff; and they need to be "on the ball" at all times. All of which trains them to begin to think and to act as a coach, a manager, and a leader.)

So, with that analogy in mind, you might ask yourself: What "catcher's skills" do I need to develop? And in what ways is what I'm doing today grooming me for tomorrow?

Continuing the baseball analogy, in the office you might need to consider such common questions as: Who on my team could I ask to "pinch run" for me when I'm too busy or unable to perform; when might I need to "sacrifice" for the good of the team; or when do I, perhaps, need some "relief" in terms of bringing in someone else to help seal the deal and "close" out the win?

When we have two strikes against us – whether on the field, at work, or in life – we need to have the wisdom to know when to bear down, choke up, and just try to make contact rather than swinging for the fences. To be able to recognize the difference between when we're needed to be the hero vs. when what's needed is for us to just find a way to get on base and let someone else drive us in.

Get ‘em on; get ‘em over; get ‘em in. That’s what it’s all baseball, in business, and in life.

All in all, our great American pastime has, over the course of our lives, "coached" many of us to think about and get better at a wide range of life- and work-related skill sets including: time management, communication, innovation, strategic thinking, management, leadership, teamwork, and so much more -- all while enjoying some peanuts and Cracker Jacks (with the hope of finding a good prize inside!).

Both on the field and off, whether we realize it or not, baseball has become an inescapable part of our everyday language:

“Let’s touch base next week.”

“That marketing campaign was a home run.”

“The new guy is really on the ball.”

“Will you pinch hit for me at tomorrow’s meeting?”

“I really struck out with that proposal.”

“Can you give me a ballpark estimate of what it’s gonna cost?”

"That last-minute client request came out of left field."

“Your suggestion was a grand slam!”

So even if we don’t play professional baseball for a living, when challenged to "hit it out of the park" in our work or personal lives, baseball can serve as a powerful and inspirational metaphor.

So now, with Opening Day upon us, and with spring in the air, it’s a perfect time for reflection, renewal, and regeneration – and to think about how we might look to the baseball diamond for some answers. For those of you who may not have your own life coach or executive coach (let alone your own bench coach), we would like to suggest that you seek out some coaching wisdom from the ball field by pondering the following sampling of self-reflection questions from our coaching handbook, “What Would Your Baseball Ask?”

Before you slide head-first into answering these questions for yourself, take a moment to think about the personal and/or professional goals you're trying to reach and consider how, by exploring these questions from the various baseball-related perspectives, you can increase your odds of making it around the bases and scoring the winning run:

1. The “HOME PLATE” Perspective: What is your ultimate goal?

2. The “OUTFIELD FENCE” Perspective: What would “knocking it out of the park” look like for you?

3. The “FIRST BASE” Perspective: What is the first milestone you need to achieve?

4. The “BASEBALL BAT” Perspective: What tools do you need to get the job done?

5. The “PITCHING COACH” Perspective: Who can help you get ready?

6. The “BASEBALL MITT” Perspective: What opportunities might you be able to reach out and grab?

7. The “BASE LINE” Perspective: How will you know if you’re going in the right direction?

8. The “CATCHER’S MASK” Perspective: What realities do you need to face?

9. The “PINE TAR” Perspective: What are you going to do if you get in a sticky situation?”

10. The “BATTER’S BOX” Perspective: Where do you need to take a stand?

11. The “UMPIRE'S” Perspective: “What rules do you need to play by?”

12. The “SPIKES” Perspective: Where do you need more traction?

13. The “SECOND BASE” Perspective: How will you get yourself into scoring position?

14. The “HITTING COACH” Perspective: What adjustments do you need to make?

15. The “THIRD BASE COACH” Perspective: What signs do you need to pay attention to?

16. The “PITCHER’S MOUND” Perspective: Where could you use a new point of view?

17. The “THIRD BASE” Perspective: When you’re almost there…what do you need to do next to reach your goal?

18. The “BATTING GLOVES” Perspective: How are you going to get a grip on things?

19. The “BASEBALL CAP” Perspective: How do you keep your head in the game?

20. The “FANS” Perspective: “Who’s rooting for you?”

While there are plenty more where these came from (which ones that we didn't mention can YOU think of?), we hope that these few metaphorical questions from the baseball diamond have given you some valuable food for thought and helped you to focus your attention on some of the things that really matter.

With spring training now over, it’s time to get down to business with your eyes on the prize of a championship you set off in pursuit of your own Field of Dreams, wherever or whatever that may be.

Play ball!

Spring Forward…By Facing Your Fears and Kickstarting Your Confidence

Is the calendar trying to tell us something?

As I wrote last week in my post, “It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!” sometimes we just need something like a Leap Day to give us that extra nudge.

Last Friday’s March 4th date hinted that, despite the barriers and obstacles that may stand in our way, we need to continue to “march forth” towards our vision and our goals – even in the face of adversity.

And despite the fact that we have been forewarned to “Beware the Ides of March” (Julius Caesar, Act I scene ii), this Saturday as we set our clocks ahead by one hour, what better time is there to – both literally and metaphorically – “spring forward”!

After a long winter of hibernation, spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, regeneration, and rejuvenation. A time to re-evaluate priorities and start fresh. And all those New Year’s resolutions you made just a couple of months ago? If you haven’t started doing so already, with the weather starting to turn a little warmer and sunnier and with baseball’s Spring Training season in full gear, now is the perfect time to get serious about turning those ideas into actions.

But what often stands in the way of these good intentions and best laid plans is not necessarily external forces, but our own internal self-confidence. Einstein famously said that “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And yet fear of the new and the unknown, doubts and insecurities, and the thought of pushing ourselves beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone is a scary thought that makes us rather “bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of” (Hamlet, Act III scene i). And those “ills” could range from a bad relationship or undesirable apartment to an unsatisfying job situation, a horrible boss, or simply the fear of getting out there and going on a job interview.

So what keeps us trapped in a prison of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and living a life of quiet desperation? It could be a variety of factors, but one of the biggest and most common is: a lack of confidence.

From my own personal experience, I’ve found, over the course of my career, that confidence is the single biggest differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. All things being equal, whether in business, sports, school, or life, the more confident person is often going to come out ahead more times than the one who isn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

We’re talking about the person who has the confidence to raise their hand. The confidence to put themselves out there. The confidence to take risks and give it a try. The confidence to question authority. The confidence to ignore those who mock you. The confidence to get back up after getting knocked down. And the confidence to (as in the classic Apple “Think Different” commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”) think they can change the world.

Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I went to watch a live taping of “Seinfeld” – which, as a huge fan of the show, was an amazing and unforgettable experience. But what made it most unforgettable – and regrettable all these years later – was something that didn’t happen that night:

During a break in the taping, the host whose job it was to keep the audience entertained in between scenes said, “It’s time for some Seinfeld trivia! If you can tell me the middle name of Elaine Benes, you win this Seinfeld t-shirt!” Having watched and pretty much memorized every single episode, I knew for certain that the answer was “Marie.” But while other audience members randomly shouted out one wrong guess after another, I sat there in anxious silence…while busting to call out the correct answer and claim my prize. But too shy to speak up, doubting myself, and afraid of the possibility of being wrong and embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers who didn’t know me and who I would never see again, that window of opportunity quickly closed. So what kept me from winning that Seinfeld t-shirt that I wanted so badly? Absolutely nothing but a lack of confidence in myself, the fear of being wrong, and, simply, the fear of speaking up and speaking out.

I wish I had kept in mind that night the classic quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said that, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself,” as well as these motivational thoughts from his wife, First Lady and prolific author and world-changing social activist (despite all her many self-confessed fears and insecurities), Eleanor Roosevelt:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if you realized how seldom they do.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out, eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”

And, my favorite, and probably the most well-known (from her inspirational book, “You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For A More Fulfilling Life”):

“Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face… The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

The word “confidence” comes from the Latin for “with trust or faith” (and is related to such other words as confide, confident, confidant, fidelity, fiduciary, etc.). So the key to keep in mind regarding this definition is that in order to instill confidence in others, it is so important to first trust and have faith in oneself.

Here’s the bad news: You are always going to struggle with your confidence. Why? Because EVERYONE does, at one time or another! Fear of the unknown is an absolutely normal, human emotional reaction. And, the future is always unknown!

The only way, really, to make yourself completely confident all of the time would be to just do the same old thing, the same old way every single day of your entire life. But that would be predictable and boring…and will lead us nowhere. The only way to grow is to try, to take risks, to fail, and to learn, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones…into the zone of the unknown.

Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I learned 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Wayne Gretzky said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Michael Jordan famously said: "I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

And Dale Carnegie advised: Imagine the worst that can happen. Now imagine the likelihood of the worst happening, and be prepared in case it does. But realize that worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Think back on how many times in the past you’ve worried about something bad happening, how infrequently (if ever) it did, and how much time and energy you wasted worrying about it. Now use that time, that you would have spent worrying, more productively.

So, with spring almost upon us and opening day of the baseball season just around the corner, to paraphrase the famous words of Babe Ruth:

Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging for the fences!

For more on building your confidence, please see my blog post, “How to Regain Your Confidence and Recapture Your Mojo After a Layoff.”