{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Managing Constructive Criticism

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Managing Constructive Criticism

In this episode, Katie and Chris reflect on a recent focus group in which we received lots of helpful, constructive criticism. What do you do with constructive criticism? How do you categorize and prioritize it? Listen in as we discuss our own focus group results and what we’ll do to move forward.

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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Managing Constructive Criticism

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:02

This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.

In this week’s in ear insights, sometimes the truth hurts, specifically, getting feedback about your work, getting feedback about your marketing, getting feedback about stuff that you spent a lot of time and effort on.

And then getting feedback about it.

That is constructive criticism sometimes, or just outright.

Wow, that sucks, guys, is feedback that we have to deal with.

And so Katie, you want to set the stage in terms of how we arrived at this point of discussion for today, because of some stuff that we are doing with our slack community?

Katie Robbert 0:43

Yeah, absolutely.

So we recently conducted a focus group.

And so you know, a focus group, you know, in the traditional sense is you would be introducing a concept or an idea, and getting people’s feedback on it.

And usually, you hire a neutral third party to do it if you have that luxury.

But we don’t have that luxury.

So we did it ourselves.

Unfortunately, I have experience running focus groups.

And so I was able to hopefully run it in such a way that, you know, everybody felt like it was a good use of their time.

And so what we were looking for was feedback on some of those services and reporting that we do, because we recognize that we were too close to the analysis in order to see where there were, you know, deficits, or where there was room for improvement.

And so we said, Hey, why don’t we ask our trusted community, you know, if they want to participate, they can completely voluntary.

And so it, you know, it struck me, as I was talking with another friend of mine about what we were doing, she had said, I would have a really hard time with that I would have a really hard time not getting defensive, even if the feedback was right.

And I don’t disagree with that.

I think it’s very easy to get defensive, even when you’re asking for the feedback.

But I would like to think that we did a really great job of not getting defensive when getting the feedback.

And I think that was for a couple of reasons which I can get into, you know, proper expectation setting.

But Chris, you know, how do you think it went? And what are your what’s your general feeling on feedback, and getting it and constructive criticism?

Christopher Penn 2:21

feedback and constructive criticism? I think, you know, it’s something that you also know from your clinical background, when you submit anything for peer review.

As long as you’re getting it from actual peers, you have to listen to it, right? You have to say like, this is what people who are equally knowledgeable, have to say about the thing.

And in this case, we’re not talking about the underlying technology behind the services we offer, right? Because this would not have been a group of peers to discuss, oh, well, no, you shouldn’t be using a Markov chain.

They should be using Shapley values thing.

That’s that’s not what this is what this was taking people who are experts in delivering marketing insights to stakeholders, and that in that case, they are appears to say, like, yeah, this would not do the job.

But this is not do what you intended it to do.

And so getting that feedback, I thought was very valuable.

And the other thing that I really like about things like this is something that you kind of get in conference sessions, but it’s better in focus groups is when you hear people talking about the thing, if you can convince yourself to just shut up and not talk.

They say things that spark new ideas, right, they say things like, at one point, someone was talking about, you know, binning certain results.

And like, I know how to bin but I never thought of applying it to this particular form.

Like that’s a really good idea.

And so what counterbalances sometimes the the feeling of Oh, well, someone’s gonna tell me my thing sucks, is, oh, I could get some new things, and some new toys to play with.

And some new ideas that are even more fun that can make the thing that you’re working on so much better, that more people want it.

And that’s the ultimate validation is is more people want the thing and are willing to, you know, had huge stacks of Benjamins to do it.

Katie Robbert 4:12

Why do you think taking that feedback or constructive criticism is so difficult for not just marketers, but for people in general?

Christopher Penn 4:22

How’s anybody like to hear either their baby’s ugly?

Katie Robbert 4:28

Well, but you but you, believe it or not, you just brought up a good point.

It’s all about the way that the feedback or the or the constructive feedback is given.

And so in order to make something like a focus group that we just ran successful, there have to be expectations set upfront in terms of, here’s what we do need from you, here’s what we don’t need from you.

And so if someone’s gonna show up, just to trash you, then that’s not super productive and helpful and that person needs to be ejected from the experience.

If you are telling people, here’s what our goal is, here’s what we are trying to accomplish.

And here’s what we need from you, and frame it and give them just guidelines, just like we’ve talked about with other meetings and post mortems and project reviews.

You need to set the ground rules you need to give people the expectation of here’s what we need from you.

So if someone walks in and says your baby’s ugly, well, is that what you ask for? If no, then you have a problem.

But if you said, I want you to comment on my baby’s appearance, and they say it’s ugly, well, then you get what you asked for.

And so part of the responsibility is on you as the person asking for feedback, to set the expectation of what kind of feedback you’re looking for, and how you want it and how you’re open to receiving it.

And then the other half the responsibilities on the person giving the feedback to understand the ground rules and give you what you’ve asked for.

Now, you know, we could go down into, you know, unsolicited feedback.

Well, yeah, nobody asked for it.

And when people start to tell you, your stuff sucks, well, you know, it can hurt your feelings, or it can hurt your business.

But guess what you didn’t ask for it.

In this instance, we asked for it, it is the same thing with doing someone’s in your review, you have to lay those ground rules.

And that’s where those types of experiences go wrong is not setting the expectation of what’s productive and unproductive.

Christopher Penn 6:23


And I think in the vein of asking for feedback, part of it also has to be asking for feedback from people that you respect, right? Like the people who are in our analytics for marketers community are there by choice, they’re not being coerced to be there, they’re not, you know, it stopped, ask them as part of their jobs.

And they’re there because they legitimately want to learn more, they want to share what they have, and learn more.

And so automatically, I would value their feedback higher than random troll on the internet, right? There’s a big difference in the selection of who is giving the feedback, I think it’s important.

The other thing is, to your point, especially around reviews is having a certain amount of self awareness.

Like, I’ll show you an example here, we were discussing.

And for folks who are watching on YouTube, or listening on on, you can go to our YouTube channel to see this.

But this is one of the reports that we were discussing.

I know this sucks.

I mentioned in the meeting I said this is this is based on an idea that’s five years old, and is a carryover from the way we used to do things.

And so seeing this idea, which is is like looking at a Ford Model T there’s no question in my mind, this could be a lot better knowing what we know now knowing how much we’ve changed in in the years since we start first doing the buildings kind of report makes it easy to say, Yeah, not only is this baby ugly, but it’s, you know, it’s several versions behind in terms of just the knowledge that goes into it, and it needs to be rebooted entirely.

And so it’s not, it’s not, the feedback itself is not threatening, because you know, what’s bad, right? It’s like saying, like, yeah, you made a cake and the cake came out completely flat.

Like, unless you’re completely delusional, you know, the cake is gonna be bad, right? So someone saying, you know, that cakes, kind of flat like, yeah.

And so to your point about like, being receptive to feedback, if you know that it’s bad, but the community is there to then say, Hey, here’s the things that could make it better.

That to me is the upside is much greater than the downside.

Katie Robbert 8:39

Well, and you know, you’re talking about this awareness and knowing that things aren’t working.

But, you know, I mean, I can only speculate, but what if we had gone in thinking everything was fantastic.

And we thought we were only going to get glowing reviews, and everyone who showed up was like, I don’t get it.

It doesn’t make any sense to me.

When we first found a Trust Insights and started delivering these reports for our clients, I think we definitely had a few of those moments.

Because, you know, we rightly so thought that the materials and assets we were putting together were really good.

And then we immediately started getting that.

I don’t get it.

I can’t use this.

I don’t understand that feedback.

And, you know, while the feeling was short lived, I mean, I definitely had that.

Are we doing the right things? Do we even know what we’re talking about moment when we couldn’t find a way to communicate with our clients with our data, which is the core of what we do.

And so I think it would have been interesting, you know, not that I’m trying to set us up for failure, but it would have been interesting to see how the experience with the focus group played out today had we gone in with a bunch of things that we thought were amazing.

Christopher Penn 9:51


I think you know, there is that s aspect of awareness like do you know Do you know can you realistically see from somebody else’s point of view? Right? Can you realistically, I that’s something that I know we’ve talked about a lot in the past is, is that’s the operational definition of empathy, knowing what somebody else is going through and then being able to make decisions on it.

If you can’t see how something would function for somebody, from their point of view, then yeah, it’s gonna be a rough ride.

I know, with a lot of our stuff, you know, some of the experimental stuff and things I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it’s bad is the the underlying the ingredients are there, right, guys? Yeah, the recipes not there, the presentation is not there.

The the outcome, if we think about the five p framework, that performance is, is is not defined, yet the purpose is clear.

The the processes, the people are good, the platform is impressive.

And so by having that framework of how mature is this thing, we can be honest and say like it’s not mature, I was showing you, in our own SEO report this this month, a new idea of taking and visualizing some of the key aspects of search console data, and you literally said, What is this, like, I don’t even know what I’m looking at, like, I know, it’s not ready for primetime, it’s not even ready for, like, you know, a pre screening with the critics, it’s just, it’s the start of an idea.

The idea has to it, it definitely is, you know, it’s like taking the bread out of the oven, like two hours before supposed to be done.

Katie Robbert 11:37

Well, and I think, you know, I should know that you and I have built trust in our relationship where, you know, if I’m questioning something you’re doing, I’m not questioning you, personally, I’m just looking at something.

And my initial reaction might be like, What the f is this? But really, what I’m saying is, I don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate to me, can you please help me understand.

And you know, that just comes through time where you and I have built that relationship.

And I think that that doesn’t translate to like, newer relationships, like when you have that consultant client relationship, when the client comes back, and says to you what the EFF is this, you know, you don’t know if they’re upset, or if they’re, you know, confused or angry, or whatever the thing is, until you build that relationship.

And I think that that’s a big part of giving and receiving feedback in a productive way.

And so Chris, you mentioned that we look to our analytics for marketers community, because we trust those people, we have those relationships with that community, they know who we are, we know who they are, we know why they are coming to the community.

And so we didn’t have to spend time convincing them that they should, you know, give up two hours on a Friday to talk to us about things that they’re not necessarily going to benefit from, they’re doing us a favor.

And so that already established that level of trust that they were willing to do that for us.

And then that we trusted them with our you know, basically our precious cargo, our babies to say like, you know, is it ugly or not?

Christopher Penn 13:20

It’s true.

Now, how did you feel as you’re getting the feedback from the community? Obviously, you know, the product specific things are like, okay, clearly this is, we know, this is an issue or we know, this is not working stuff.

But in terms of how people were giving us feedback, and what feedback we got, how did it make you feel,

Katie Robbert 13:41

I thought it was really productive and respectful.

And it made me It made me really happy that we were going through this exercise, because I went into it, with the goal of having no ego of say, you know, it doesn’t matter if they say anything good or bad, we’ve asked them for this information.

So I was really trying to stay neutral in terms of the feedback we were getting.

So if someone you know, was personally attacking me, that might be a different story.

But, you know, the feedback that we got, and the way that it was delivered was, I think I see what you’re trying to do here.

Here’s how I as a marketer need you to deliver this information to me so that I can do my job better.

So, you know, everybody that we asked under showed the assignment, and they showed up, ready to do the work.

And so I felt great about all of the feedback that we got, because even if there are parts of feedback that people gave us, they wouldn’t necessarily implement right away.

None of it was unusable.

It was all really helpful to just understand where people are at and for me, you know, Chris, you had mentioned sort of the empathy empathy side of things and being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes.

That is where I spend most of my time is trying to understand from other people’s perspectives, how they’re taking in our information.

And so if I’m Chris Penn, and I’m looking at this report, what am I trying to understand from it? If I’m client a, and I’m trying to understand what what am I trying to understand from? What kind of a day Am I having, you know, what kind of a team do I have? What is my relationship with, like, with my boss, and how many things are on fire that day? And I’m always trying to process all of that information at once, you know, so that we can do better.

And so for me, I feel like it’s, it comes naturally, it’s second nature to take feedback.

I’m always looking for feedback.

And so for me, I think it’s sort of that unique position where I feel like, you know, I’m always looking forward to and it’s easy for me to take feedback.

Christopher Penn 15:50

Yeah, I thought that was it was interesting.

Also hearing people’s perspectives, or even why they even a member of the community, which I thought it was self, it was not something that was part of the assignment for the day, but hearing people saying, like, Oh, yeah, we’re here, because we want to get information we can’t get anywhere else.

We want to see perspectives that we have not been mentioned, know what other participants said, You know, I look at stuff like this, because every time I look at it, I never have the feeling of I’ve seen this before, like, okay, that’s that in itself is is good, just sort of marketing feedback for us.

Katie Robbert 16:28

That was it.

I mean, I heard that comment.

And I thought it was such a nice compliment and validation to the things that we’re trying to do.

And so you know, we’ve talked about this in other podcasts of, you know, I struggle to create content around change management and content around leadership.

Because in my mind, well, it’s been written before it’s been done before, who cares? But your feedback to me is always, but nobody has written it from your perspective, from your experience.

And so to get that feedback, and that validation, during the focus group was really nice to hear.

I mean, that was something to your point.

We didn’t ask for it, but it was offered.

Christopher Penn 17:09


And for folks who have not heard the the analogy this actually comes from the creative writing world.

There’s that perspective Oh, you know, this story has been done, your boy meets girl cetera, things that sort has been done what I have to offer, and one of the counsel given to writers is think of it like cake, right? You’re sitting there going, Oh, my cake looks just like this other person’s cake is not as good as pretty.

Meanwhile, the person on the other side of tails is like, holy shit, two cakes instead of one.

So I always refer back to that whenever we’re from a content marketing perspective, like, Oh, well, do we really have anything different to say, then say McKinsey does about change match? Well, yeah, actually, we do.

But even if we didn’t necessary, as long as it was good quality, you know, then it’s the person who says hello says they’re the Change Manager equivalent of two cakes.

Katie Robbert 18:00

I mean, that’s maybe one of my favorite analogies is to cakes.

But that’s, you know, and that’s absolutely right.

And so with, if you don’t ever open yourself up to get that kind of feedback, and that kind of constructive criticism, you’ll never get to the point of seeing that two cakes is better than no cakes.

Christopher Penn 18:20


So now we have all this feedback.

I guess the question is, so what what are we going to do with all this? And and how, because we got a lot of great feedback.

It was all constructive all ideas to implement, what do we do next?

Katie Robbert 18:38

In a perfect world, we would be able to just stop everything that we’re doing and test an experiment for a while.

But obviously, that’s not reality.

Because we are these are reports that we give to a variety of clients on a regular basis.

And so what we need to do is iterate internally, before rolling it out in production.

And maybe we you know, whether it’s on a phone call, or just in our slack community, we say, Hey, we heard you.

Here’s what we’ve implemented so far, what do you think, and continue that feedback loop.

And it’s the same thing with running a customer service team.

If you don’t have that continual feedback loop, then your products will never get better.

This is just another version of that without us having a product that has like a chat bot on our website with a How did we do today? We’re essentially making that our in person thing with this focus group.

How did we do today? We heard you and I think that that that’s one of the most important pieces of giving and receiving feedback is Why are you looking for the feedback if you’re not ever gonna do anything with it? So making sure you’re also doing your part to follow through and let people know I heard you and here’s what I did with that information.

It’s the same thing we say with data analysis.

Why are you looking at the data if you’re never going to change anything?

Christopher Penn 19:59

Exactly what Although I will say, having dealt with a lot of interesting people over the years, one of the things that does make people feel better, is just that acknowledgement of saying like, Yes, I i’ve, I heard you, I see you, I acknowledge that you get you took the time and effort to give this information, you know what it was asked of you.

And I think there’s, there’s probably some value in that, too.

Katie Robbert 20:27

There’s a lot of value in that I may have shared this anecdote or story before, but when I was a much, much less experienced in running teams, I had a stakeholder who ultimately made the decisions, and it was my job to convince him to make the decisions that my various teams wanted to make.

And so I would always go to him with this information.

And he would say, No, I’m not gonna do that.

And one time, you know, we finally like, had a very honest conversation, like, why do you say no to everything I bring to you? Because he said, because you say no to everything I bring to you.

And it was sort of a hormone of like, oh, he just wants to be heard, even if it’s not going to be the right thing right then and there.

And so I really, you know, took that to heart and took that forward and every other experience of you’re absolutely right, because people just want to be heard, even if it’s not the thing that gets implemented right then in there, they just want to know that, like, I’ve created a safe space where I can share my thoughts and opinions, and nobody’s going to shoot down and go, No, that’s a stupid idea.

And so even if the people who we talked to today had presented us information that we were never going to use, we still hurt them.

And it was valuable.

Maybe we couldn’t use it right then and there.

But maybe there’s another context in which it would be appropriate.

Christopher Penn 21:51


I and we talked about this, I talked about this a lot.

Yeah, one of the biggest corporate successes of the last 10 years, was T Mobile, right? And their entire marketing platform for seven years, was listening to customers, tell them what they hated.

And then programmatically stopped doing those things, right? Like, oh, you you don’t you you don’t like having a bill with 44 different itemized random fees, cool with sub doing that, Oh, you don’t like having 22 service plants choose from cool, here’s one.

And it sounds absurdly simple.

And it is simple.

But it wasn’t easy for them to do, it took a lot of pushing internally, they needed a top down sponsorship to do it.

But the net result was they were basically able to buy up like five or six smaller carriers and become the third largest mobile carrier in the United States.

On the back of, hey, let’s stop annoying our customers.

Like let’s listen to what they have to say and then prioritize, and then just stop doing the things that are dumb.

Katie Robbert 22:55

So that same stakeholder that I was just talking about, he operated in a very similar way where he would go to events, and then after events, you typically get the feedback form.

How did we do? Where can we improve, this man would sit in his office and hand right out, you know, granted, this was a good 15 years ago, but he would hand write out his feedback, and scan it in and send it to them.

And it would be pages upon pages of where he felt they could do better.

And so granted, a lot of it was just that he was a bit of a cranky old man, and always had a complaint, but a lot of what he had to say was valid.

And one of the things that he was always saying was I wish people’s names on their conference badge, were larger, so I wouldn’t have to stare at somebody’s chest in order to see what their name is.

And I was like, well, that’s seems like a really straightforward ask.

And no event ever acknowledged it, no event ever changed anything.

And ultimately, as a customer of that event, as a patron, he became frustrated and gave up and really sort of in his mind, the reputation of those events just went down because they were never listening to the feedback of the customer.


Christopher Penn 24:07

And they never acknowledged Okay, we’ve heard you and here’s why we’re not going to do that thing.

Because I didn’t hear you.

Katie Robbert 24:12

Yeah, there was there was no feedback loop.

Christopher Penn 24:17

Okay, well so it sounds like we’ve got our work handed out for us in terms of things that other folks should be taking it How should if you’re a marketer, listen to this episode.

What are some things that they should know about? Trying to even run a focus group like this because may listen to the sound sound like wow, this sounds It was really successful.

Maybe I want to try that what what should they know going into it and what should they know not to do?

Katie Robbert 24:46

Have a clear objective, and so we had a very clear objective that we repeated multiple times throughout the course of the focus group.

Here’s why we’re asking for your feedback.

Here is the one thing that we are looking to improve upon.

You can have multiple objectives, but make sure you are crystal clear about what those things are going into a focus group, because typically a focus group takes time, you know, you’re not asking people for a five minute survey, you’re asking for a couple of hours of conversation, and you really have to listen and pay attention to what they’re saying.

So I would say, number one, make sure you have a clear objective.

Number two, know your audience.

And so, you know, don’t just ask a bunch of your peers, like we could have asked our, you know, friends and whatnot, but they may not necessarily be the right audience for the thing that we’re trying to get feedback on.

So we looked to people who represented our clientele, to say, if you were our client, what does this mean to you? What does this look like? Where is this not working for you, and really making sure that we were listening to the feedback that they were giving, because they were representative of that audience? So I’d say number one, make sure you have a clear objective number two, make sure you have the right audience.

And number three, and this is the hardest one is stay open, stay present.

And don’t be defensive.

Christopher Penn 26:09

Talk about how do you can anybody do this? Or do you need some training to run a focus group effectively, because I could definitely see cases where the moderator, especially if you’re not a neutral third party, with a moderator could lead things off the rails a little?

Katie Robbert 26:29

So there’s two answers.

One is yes, anybody can do this.

But to your second question to of doing it effectively, no, not anybody should just go ahead and start a focus group, there’s, you know, there, there’s a couple of things in this sort of goes into the more stringent practice of market research.

And so market research is its whole separate discipline from, you know, marketing analysts in general marketing and digital marketing.

And so some of it is what’s called interviewer fatigue.

And so a lot of times you will tag team if it’s a longer session, or if it’s a lot of people, because taking in that much information from people causes mental fatigue on a person.

And so having somebody there is a backup, or making sure that you’re recording that people know that you’re recording helps with that fatigue, so that you can just focus on asking the questions and prompts.

Um, you know, active listening is another one of those skills that someone running a focus group would need.

And so, you know, we, when we were working at the agency, we often talked with people at the agency and on our teams about active listening versus listening.

And it’s two different things.

And so, a lot of times people are just waiting for their turn to talk versus actively listening, where you are not waiting for your turn to talk, but you’re actually absorbing the information.

You’re listening for specific cues, you’re not interrupting people and that, you know, when people get excited, it’s hard for them to contain that.

And so it really is a discipline of like, stop, shut up.

And really just let other people take the stage and do the most talking.

Christopher Penn 28:11

I feel like you’re about to start channeling realize.

Katie Robbert 28:17

like wait a minute.


Christopher Penn 28:20

Oh, stop, collaborate, collaborate, and listen.


Katie Robbert 28:22

but I mean, there is some wisdom to say, you need to stop.

You need to collaborate, and you need to listen.

Back with a brand new edition something grab a hold of me tightly.

Oh, I think we’re done.

Christopher Penn 28:41


So if, if you would like to discuss Vanilla Ice, his lyrics or any of the topics we talked about.

Hide it over to our free slack group for Trust insights.ai slash analytics markers where you know over 2000 other folks are having marketing conversations on a regular frequent basis questions you have about marketing what how you’re doing your reporting things, lots of folks in the community happy to help and wherever it is you’re watching or listening to the show.

If there’s a channel you’d prefer to add on that we probably have it.

Go to Trust insights.ai slash ti podcast where you can see all the different ways to tune in.

Thanks for thanks for listening.

We’ll talk to you soon.

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