Looping the feedback loop
Good, constructive feedback and even criticism is enormously valuable: but how can it be delivered and received in a positive way?
I recently attended a virtual networking event entitled ‘A collaborative approach to transcreation’. The guest speakers were Marco Airoldi and Nicola Calabrese, two Italian-born linguists based in Barcelona who run a transcreation business with a difference. Comunico uses a different business model to localise advertising content for its clients. Instead of seeing transcreation, copywriting and copy editing as separate processes, Marco and Nicola pool their talents and work concurrently in what they call a ‘creative loop’. This approach enables them to produce more plentiful and powerful ideas and to pinpoint more efficiently the best transcreation options to present to their clients.
Marco and Nicola had already seen the benefits of this approach when they worked together in international marketing and production agencies in London. They discovered that working on a completely equal footing allowed them to avoid the pressure of having to come up with perfect results straight away. They could easily riff ideas off each other and come up with much better solutions than they would have done working alone. As Marco explained, ‘The excellent quality of the solutions comes from the process of refining and bouncing the idea back and forth. And building on each other’s ideas.’ This makes complete sense – the saying ‘two heads are generally better than one’ is a cliché for a reason – and I was left wondering why this approach is not used more often.
Candour and collaboration in more detail
Working in a creative loop might seem like a simple solution to put into practice, but it is highly dependent on adopting the right mindset. As Marco and Nicola explained, the secret behind their success has been their commitment to the idea of ‘radical candour’. This concept was popularised by Kim Scott in her book Radical Candour: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean. According to Scott, radical candour is all about ‘saying what you really think in a way that still lets people know you care.’ This is not an easy balance to strike, but Marco and Nicola have clearly found the sweet spot in their business by finding a way to give and receive honest feedback in a constructive and supportive way. The Comunico model has proven so successful that the two have launched a second business: a boutique creative language services provider called Undertow which allows other copywriters and transcreators to adopt their collaborative method. Linguists who work with Undertow benefit from a more fluid and creative method of working, while clients receive fast and high-impact results.
Hearing Marco and Nicola speak has reminded me of the value of collaboration in a broader sense, but it has also made me think about feedback in more detail. I have asked myself whether I could improve the way I give and receive feedback and if I should harness radical candour in my own professional (and even personal) life.
Feedback loops in standard translation projects, whether between client and project manager, project manager and translator or translator and revisor, can sometimes be difficult to manage. Things come unstuck when different parties misunderstand or unintentionally antagonise one another. I think most of us have felt the sting of criticism that has been dealt too harshly or the frustration of receiving feedback that was too vague or not candid enough. And how many of us spend a long time pondering over how we should explain areas that require improvement in a translation without sounding too harsh or patronising? In addition, the fact that most of us work in silos with little or no direct contact with our business partners means we stand outside the loop and are sometimes left feeling like the proverbial mushroom languishing in the dark.
However, it’s not always like this. In recent years, I have worked collaboratively with another translator on projects for direct clients where we share translation and editing tasks. The process is very enjoyable and rewarding for various reasons. First, I feel more invested in the project from the outset because I feel supported and am more motivated to go the extra mile to please and impress a person I am more closely connected with. Second, I am able to develop my skills and share my own knowledge more easily because there are more opportunities to share resources and discuss the best solutions. Third, the work is more fun and satisfying because of the sense of camaraderie that develops as we plough through our respective parts of the texts. We often send each other WhatsApp messages or emails to boost one another along. We both make a real effort to present our feedback as honestly, kindly and constructively as possible and we both try to take on board each other’s feedback with good grace. In fact, we have both instinctively embraced the idea of radical candour, at least to some degree: and that’s why the partnership works so well. It would be great if all projects operated like this.
Other views and perspectives on giving feedback
Learning about radical candour was a revelation to me. I didn’t realise that so many great minds have been turning their attention towards the thorny issue of giving and receiving feedback and that there are many books, TED Talks and podcasts on the subject. Kim Scott’s book on radical candour has become a bestseller and has apparently helped many people avoid what she calls ‘obnoxious aggression’, ‘manipulative insincerity’ and ‘ruinous empathy’ – an ugly trinity that can derail any relationship. However, the reviews on Amazon suggest that Kim Scott doesn’t have all the answers and, in my attempt to find out more, I was drawn towards a more recent book by Dr Therese Huston called Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower.
In this very accessible feedback manual, Dr Huston reassures us that giving feedback is hard because we are never trained to do it. She believes that radical candour is all well and good, but it requires a high level of emotional intelligence (EI) and most of us have a lower EI than we think. Instead, she recommends other tools and techniques, which mainly centre on listening more, asking more questions, creating psychological safety around mistakes, and praising more often because even the highest flyers need regular doses of praise. One surprising piece of research explained in the book suggests that five doses of praise are needed for one dose of criticism. Dr Huston also takes a closer look at unconscious bias and how it can affect how feedback is delivered. I was alarmed to find out that women receive concrete praise 44 per cent less often than men, which can significantly hold them back in their career development.
Let’s Talk is a great guide to giving feedback, but what about receiving feedback? This is something I need to work on as I tend to feel poleaxed when I have made mistakes or realise there are areas I need to work on. Author of The Feedback Fix, Joe Hirsh, gives some useful pointers in his TED Talk ‘The Joy of Getting Feedback’. He describes how receiving feedback can feel like ‘an active uncovering of uncomfortable truths’ and recommends that we reframe the situation: we shouldn’t see feedback in terms of looking back on things we have done that we can’t change but in terms of looking towards a future full of potential and opportunity. Taking this one-step further, we should perhaps tell ourselves that we are not getting ‘feedback’ but ‘feedforward’. If this sounds a little trite to you, other experts are on hand to give more comprehensive advice, such as Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in their popular book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.
So, could adopting any of these techniques and mindsets help us as translators and interpreters? What would happen if everyone inside (or outside) the loop adopted more deliberate, well-thought out and compassionate ways of giving and receiving feedback? Would mistakes and miscommunication be eliminated? Would more creative and higher quality work be delivered? Would morale be higher than ever before? Maybe yes, maybe no. Other factors such as market pressure, translation tools, internal processes and communication methods also play their part in supporting or undermining working relationships. In addition, delivering and receiving honest feedback in a kind and compassionate way is not always easy to do consistently. Our moods and life circumstances can also influence how good we are at it from one day to the next.
But awareness can help guide us in the right direction. Successful companies like Comunico clearly demonstrate how much of a difference the right mindset can make. And there may be some useful nuggets we can take from the advice offered by the feedback gurus. Perhaps we will acknowledge how hard the project manager must be working to ensure the project is delivered on time. Or we might ask the project manager to let the translator know how much we admired the translation we were asked to edit. Maybe we will include praise within the comments we make directly to the translator, perhaps adding a smiley face for that extra human touch. Or maybe we will respond to client feedback in the most gracious and attentive way we can by asking direct and specific questions so we can truly get to the heart of the matter. And we will remember not to feel beaten down by critical feedback but to see it as ‘feedforward’ and an opportunity to adapt, pivot and grow. We might even start to think of ways in which we can become a more visible and active part of the feedback loop too. Contemplating the art of giving and receiving feedback also reminds us that as well as focusing on our technical abilities, it is worth paying attention to those so-called soft skills that help oil the wheels of job satisfaction and success.
Food for thought for would-be feedback ninjas
Radical Candour: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean. Kim Scott
Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower. Dr Therese Huston
The Feedback Fix, Joe Hirsh
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
LeeAnn Renninger: ‘The secret to giving great feedback’
Joe Hirsh: ‘The joy of getting feedback’
Marco Airoldi and Nicola Calabrese are two Italian linguists and creative language professionals. Together they founded Comunico and Undertow which provide language localisation services to help brands reach their international audiences. You can connect with Marco at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/marco-airoldi/ and Nicola at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicola-calabrese/.
For more information about Comunico and Undertow, visit https://comunicolanguages.com (https://www.linkedin.com/company/comunicolanguages/) and https://www.undertowlanguages.com: (https://www.linkedin.com/company/undertowlanguages/)