Persona, SCA Life, Vinegar

Making a Vinegrier – Part 3, the WFH edition

It has been a while since I posted and Goddess help me, things got weird! But never fear, the project moves forward.

I ordered and got a new doublet. I got a new haversack. So I have the clothes for the persona!

A good friend is helping to make the wheelbarrow. With the shelter in place, he is mostly making it now. Red Oak. So that is moving forward.

My barrels arrived. The wood blanks arrived. I took David of Lochmorrow’s class on pokerwork. Here is what the barrel heads will look like

Designed the banners I need. Some will be in silk and some will be from Spoonflower

The 5 gallons of vinegar is moving along.

Next step: order wood burning supplies, order silk banner supplies. Do those things. Do enameling.

I also ordered a new outfit from Aveline. And working with Kitsune on a new outfit as well.

Big plans. It will come together eventually.

Persona, SCA Life, Vinegar

Making a Vinaigrier – Part 2

In Pennsic Project, I started telling you about what I am going to do. Now to tell you about what I AM doing.

If I am going to portray a vinaigrier, I need a product to “sell”. I will be giving it away. So, step 1, make 5 gallons of vinegar.

I spoke to two woodworkers. If I end up with two wheelbarrows, great! But my local friend at least thinks he can do it. He found a nice piece of 14 ft, 2″ x 2″ red oak to make the frame of barrow out of. So that is coming along.

I started the wine. As Coresande asked, can’t you just go straight to vinegar? Alas no. There are inorganic ways of making acetic acid but the preferred way is changing alcohol to vinegar. Starting with a wine we will.

I purchased a wine kit box for ~$85. It makes 6 gallons of wine. That is almost 23 liters or 23000 ml. Or more to the point, ~30 750ml bottles of wine. On a good day, (no Trader Joe’s nearby), I can get Pinot Noir for $5.00 per bottle. More like $6 any more. That is ~$150 to $180 of wine. While the bottles are sometimes nice, it is about twice what the wine kit costs. When it is in season, I use Alexander’s Sun Country WIne Concentrate at ~$30 to make 2.5 gallons but it isn’t in season and I need to make this now. So you use what you can get.

Most of the stuff in the box is not useful to me. I am not going to “fake” oak my wine with chips. I don’t care if it is clear. And I am just turning it into vinegar anyway so potassium metasulfate isn’t needed either. But the juice. That is what we are after.

As with all brewing, sanitize your equipment. Pour the juice in the 6 gallon ale pail, add water, add yeast, add a little yeast nutrients, and it goes in a sort of warm corner for a few weeks. My starting SG was 1.1. In a few weeks, we will have wine. Then about a month after that, we will have vinegar. More of that when we get to that stage 🙂

Persona, SCA Life, Vinegar

Pennsic Project – Making a Vinaigrier

In The Short of History of Vinegar and Oswyn Swann , I start with the whys and wherefores of this. Here are the nuts and bolts.

To do this project, I need the following: a costume (garb), a wheelbarrow, a barrel, vinegar, and probably some way to tell people what I am doing.

I ordered a new doublet because I am like 30 lbs heavier than I was 20+ years ago when we all dressed in Ren Faire garb for a friends’ wedding. The old one is a little tight. But I have a flat cap, white shirt, venetian pants, tights, socks, and shoes. Garb is good enough.

I have ordered a 20L barrel and will learn to do some pyrography on the barrelhead. I just received the wine grape juice to make into wine to then make into ~5 gallons of vinegar. So that is done.

I have reached out to a few people about the wheelbarrow. That is moving forward.

I wrote this: What is going on here?

I will make a little carrier so people can pull the sheets out and learn what I am doing.

I need to make some banners. And if I am going to do it, I might as well make all the rest of the banners I need/want too.

The square is more representative for Oswyn of Baðon: Raedas Gewillum Fiðraþ – Plans Gives Wishes Wings. Literally, in Old English is says Counsel (Wise) gives feathers to (your) will. Close enough 🙂

Then Sanguinum Facit Ars. I really wanted it to say “It isn’t art until you bleed on it” but in Latin that is really awkward. So it literally says, Blood Makes Art. A bit vampiric but understandable. I do glass work. I cut myself frequently.

Lastly, Vinum Exhilarat Amici. The Worshipful Company of Vinters is a real thing. They are an old English “guild”. Their motto is Vinum Exhilarat Animum – Wine Cheers the Soul. Given that they are a real entity, I didn’t just want to “steal” or claim membership where I do not have it. That didn’t feel right. But I wanted something that echoes it. So Wine Cheers Friends. I like it.

The Azure Swan will be the name of my bar, an adjunct to Verena’s Drunken Duck. There may be times when I haul my own bar out but if the Duck is there, the Swan is part of the Duck.

Lastly, the tankards and tun are taken from the Wurmwald Brewers and Drinkers Guild.

I will post updates as they happen. I will likely start that wine next week 🙂

Persona, Vinegar

The Short of History of Vinegar and Oswyn Swann

I am excited. I have two personae. Oswyn of Baðon is who I am most of the time. He is a 10th century Englisc (Anglo-Saxon) from Bath. Through him, I do my service and Anglo-Saxon history. Oswyn Swann has been swimming (pun intended) around in my head but I couldn’t settle on who he was. Was he a wine merchant? That was my first thought. Was he a paper merchant? That didn’t work out. Was he a ciderman who runs a tavern? Maybe.

All this time, I am discovering what I love. I wanted to love paper but no. I love glass but I don’t do period glass and have no real desire to do so. I made cordials and had all of this leftover alcohol. What to do? I started making vinegar. And I resisted loving it, shamefully in darkened rooms grew to love it, and finally accepted my alcohol problem in the daylight. I do love it.

But let’s back up. I made a lot of cordials. For three straight years, I made every cordial I could think of. I have a four class series on making cordials. Most people were willing to take a cordial but occasionally, someone didn’t want one. They didn’t like sweet things. They didn’t drink. They preferred beer or wine. At one point, a good friend, somewhat joking (or maybe not) told me I wasn’t a brewer. And they were correct, I didn’t brew anything. And cordials, as we understand them, aren’t really period. Distilling is rare and difficult. There are few “period” cordials that aren’t medicines, etc. I needed to do something more period. I hit on vinegars. Then I decided that I would make my own wines and ciders to turn into vinegar. I had become a brewer and in my own terminology, an anti-brewer 🙂

In looking at into the history of vinegar, I learned it became “industrialized” in the 1380s in France. I then found an etching from the 1630s with a vinegar seller. I could do that. 1630 is just out of period but it is likely that this particular means of selling vinegar, door to door with a cask and wheelbarrow, had been true for a while. 1630 is close enough 🙂

Oswyn Swann is a vinaigrier (not sure the English had their own term). Swann is also a descendent of Baðons. Oswyn of Baðon starts a family somewhere around Bath. The first born male of each generation is named Oswyn for luck. There are about 600 years between the two Oswyns. The family maintains an estate in the countryside where their apple orchard is. So the Swanns grow apples on the estate, other family members make it into cider and Oswyn and his side of the family make it into vinegar. Now, French vinegar is all the rage as is French wine (had been for centuries and would continue to be for more centuries). Oswyn imports these things as well and sells them out of his shop on High Street in Bath. See map below. Some where near where the B is.

So I am excited that the persona is taking shape.

A brief history of vinegar

Vinegar probably existed nearly forever. Wild yeast turns sugar to alcohol; wild bacteria turns alcohol to vinegar. We have evidence of vinegar in Ancient China, Babylonia, and Egypt.

Helen of Troy is rumored to have bathed in vinegar to maintain her beauty. The Spartan made a blood soup made with vinegar. Hannibal supposedly broke rocks with heat and vinegar. Interestingly, Alexander is said to have done the same thing with heat and wine. Both stories are believed to be false because vinegar could only dissolve limestone and wine can’t dissolve anything. The doubters forgot about thermal shock. The liquid wasn’t important; only that it rapidly cooled the stones down and maybe got into cracks. But I digress.

Since Roman legionaires drank posca, a vinegar drink, and because this is Rome, there was probably a vinegar industry of some sort. We don’t know exactly. Agricultural manuals from Roman times tell us a little bit but we don’t have great information. We do know that the Romans valued the wine regions of Gaul. Burgundy becomes a major wine region from then on and where there is wine, there is vinegar.

Additionally, where this is wine, there is mustard. Mustard grows almost everywhere but it is purposely planted as a cover crop and as a companion crop to help reduce pests. To help protect their wine crops, mustard was also planted. This will be important in a moment.

Vinegar is also connected to alchemical practice.

Almost all alcohol can become vinegar so we get a lot of regional vinegars and it is easy to make at home. Whether it was another Roman industry collapse, we may never know. We do know around 1380, in Orleans France, they develop a process called the Orleans process to make vinegar on a large scale.

Again we back up a bit though. Prior to this, in Dijon, French wine becomes very popular and is a major export. They also start making mustard on a large scale. Orleans is on the Loire River which flows to Nantes on the coast. Orleans is also a little south of Paris with fairly flat terrain between the two. While it is certainly possible to go straight to Paris from Dijon, Orleans became a popular trading spot for both international shipping and for Paris. Land routes were favored until the early 1400s when Nantes was considered a favorable port. French wine would make its way to Orleans to be evaluated for where was the best place to ship it. Good wines might go on to Paris or to Nantes; lesser wines could be made into vinegar and then sent on those routes as well. Orleans became a center of vinegar manufacturing in Europe.

In 1394, the vinaigriers of Orleans form a guild which included mustard makers. The moutardiers of Dijon had their own guild by this point. By 1580, the vinaigriers of Orleans are allowed to form a corporation with a monopoly on vinegar. They are granted a coat of arms with a barrel, funnel, and cooper axes on it. Coopers were part of that corporation briefly until the next year when they are granted their own corporation. The vinaigriers were required to use barrels from the tonneliers (coopers corp).

By 1594, this corporation grew from 4 vinaigriers to 33. We get our first quality control law.

“if, the house of a master vinaigrier, are found barrels of vinegar which are slimy, rancid, or moldy, they will be seized and broken and the offender will pay a fine of one ecu (gold coin).” A jury of 4 members of the corporation were responsible for this inspection.

The inspections were needed because counterfeits were on the rise.

This is from 1630. This is how vinegar was sold to the public, door to door from a wheelbarrow and cask. Royalty would have contracts with the corporation for barrels delivered differently. As would large customers using vinegar on a “industrial” basis. But the average person in France, and presumably elsewhere in Europe, got their vinegar this way.

Swann is an English, not French, vinaigrier. His family makes vinegar but he imports wine for the Church and nobles and vinegar as well.

Things I need to make this work:

Wheelbarrow – working on it
20L barrels – have a source; just got to buy them
Pyrography for barrels – I know a guy 🙂
20 L of vinegar – I know a guy
a Shrub – I know a guy
A banner – just got to do it; I know some people
A Sign – just write on paper; explaining what I am doing
Costume – I have an inaccurate one I barely fit it; I will work on that.

Leadership

Feedback – Miscellany and Conclusions – Part 6

In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. In Part 3, I introduced SMART feedback as that substance. In Part 4, I talked about the Halo Effect. In Part 5, I talked about Mistress Gianetta Andreini da Vicenza (Jen Small)’s Get The Most Out of Judging and Entering A&S class. Time to wrap up.

Good leaders give good feedback. And if you give good feedback, you have the potential to be a good leader.

Always on

There is an SCA story, I don’t know if it is true or not, about some king at Pennsic. In the evening, there would be a big ceremony, “the Crown is going to bed.” The King would remove his crown and the Crown would be placed on a pillow and escorted away. The idea being that without the Crown, the “King” was just a man and could act as he wanted without it being construed as the “king” acting that way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

As I said in Part 1, we are always giving and evaluating feedback. The point of the “crown” story is that you can’t stop being yourself. Taking the crown off doesn’t mean people aren’t going to judge you. Or perhaps more directly said, leadership and whether someone trusts you enough to want your feedback isn’t a hat. You are always on. You are always being evaluated.

Since you are always on, the best course is to be who you truly are. And if you discover who you truly are is not someone who is a leader or someone who gives valuable feedback, you need to work on that. You need to reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Then make steps to move in a more positive direction.

Substance not structure

I really want to drive this point home. The research is clear and this will sound like a contradiction. How you say it is more important than what you say. That sounds like structure is more important, right? No. The attitude, the empathy, the connection is the how, not the formula of the feedback.

Whether you give direct statements, a sandwich, or whatever your favorite method of feedback is, what is important is that the feedback be sincere, actionable, and meaningful. Even if all you give is a negative feedback, it can be done with empathy. Even in a performance review or a termination hearing, you can state what needs to improve, what went wrong, or why someone is fired, in a way that acknowledges a shared connection, that the problem is with the work/facts/etc and not the person.

Basically, consider if someone had to give you the feedback you are about to deliver, how would you like that to be delivered? Do that.

Be open to learning

I am pretty sure Gianetta would agree with me on this. Since mostly what I am talking about is giving feedback in a formal judging situation, you as the judge need to be open to learning. Listen first. Be curious. Even if you are an expert, maybe this person found something you didn’t know about or has a perspective you didn’t consider yet.

Too often in the SCA, we hear that stereotypical story of the hostile judge or person who criticizes the newcomer’s garb. That story comes from a place where the critic assumes they know more than the other person. And what is then worse, chooses to act from that place of superiority. You don’t know why the newcomer did what they did. It may be that are trying this out and therefore did a low buy-in thing in case they didn’t like the experience. Be the kind of peer (either capital or lowercase p) you wish greeted you on your first time.

I still have a photo collage on my wall. “We were all new once.” This applies to feedback as well. We all have tried that new art for the first time. We have all thrown our first weapon strike. We have all shot an arrow for the first time. At some point on that journey, someone gave you feedback that encouraged you to keep going. They probably pointed out things you did well. They probably pointed out things you need to improve on. Be like that person.

Feedback is not criticism; it is encouragement. It is understanding and then giving advice. It is part of being a good leader and being a good person. You are always giving feedback; make it feedback others want to continue to get from you.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5

Leadership

Feedback – Get the Most out of A&S – Part 5

In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. In Part 3, I introduced SMART feedback as that substance. In Part 4, I talked about the Halo Effect. Now I am going to talk about Mistress Gianetta Andreini da Vicenza (Jen Small)’s Get The Most Out of Judging and Entering A&S class.

For starters, you can find the handout materials for her class and her outline at the links above.

I had quite a bit of management training before I took Gianetta’s class at Pennsic a few years ago. However, many of her insights and techniques mirrored what I was taught and undoubtedly shaped this series. Let’s go through her notes and class and see how this series can work with her insights.

In the Lunarbaboon cartoon, the father teaches feedback. Be Specific, Be Postitive, and Give the next step. There are some parallels there. The next step is often “actionable.” Immediately below that, Gianetta writes, “sharing is vulnerable, focus on empathy.” That is another point we have in common. Much of her advice is what implied in the 0th rule of feedback; they have to want the feedback from you. Her advice is an excellent way for someone to want feedback from you. In part 2, I hit on several areas of overlap again, be an active learner, find out what the other person needs, etc.

One of the big points that Gianetta makes about giving and receiving feedback is understanding your audience. In specific, understanding that the presenter of the display wants to show you something, something they worked on, and hopefully are proud of. As a judge, you should expand your view and see where you intersect with the presenter. You are both humans, you are both SCAdians, you are both creators, and you are both participants in this activity. With so much overlap, you should have many areas to empathize with each other.

Your base interaction, even in judging, should be a conversation. So have one. And don’t assume you know a lot about the object, even if you do. Let the other person tell you about it. Enjoy the experience. Be an active learner. Ask questions. Be collaborative.

That last one is very important. Stereotypical or not, the bad “judge” or “laurel” who just rips things apart is a legitimate fear. Everyone has heard the stories. As a judge, what are you trying to prove? That you know more than the presenter? That is probably true. But you earn no points by such behavior. Approach the situation as a true collaboration. You have something to offer but this is their project.

Gianetta then offers some basic attitudes to adopt when judging. Be comfortable and secure. Many times, the other person is looking at you as an expert, or at least someone who knows more than they do. Be curious. Sincerity helps a lot here too. Be excited. “What this is thing? Why did you choose it? Tell me about.” Be a learner and a student.

Ask open-ended questions. Allow the other person to answer and explain. You want the story of the project. When you are getting it, ask open-ended questions that lead to the answers in the criteria? “Tell me about your research.” “What did you like about the project?” “What were your challenges?” Much of that can be organic to the conversation but ask if it isn’t offered.

Once the presenter has given you their story, then you offer feedback and advice. Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions on a next step. You want to encourage this person to keep making something, not stop in fear of your words.

One of the hardest things is judging something that you have no understanding about. You know somethings. If you made anything before, you understand effort. You understand the process of making something. Rely on that. Rely on your fellow judges. You definitely don’t have to agree with them but you can get insight from them. “Was that a reasonable substituion?” “That seemed to be difficult, is it?” You can even rely on the presenter. They know this object really well. And rely on the criteria.

For presenters, consider what your goals are in the entry. Are you showing off? Wanting feedback? Winning the competition? All are valid goals. Be prepared. The judges are going to want to know what you did and why. Consider whether the venue is compatible with the goal. Maybe a craftsperson’s faire is better to show off. Maybe a Queen’s Prize Tourney is better to win a competition. But all work.

If high scores are your goal, then score yourself verses the criteria. Figure out the range bracket. Are you good with that score? Later, when you get a score from the judge, you can determine, “that was fair.” or “I should have scored higher because x”. And maybe you forgot to talk about x!

By and large, in an A&S situation, you are not being judged. Your work is. The judges, by and large, are not interested in and definitely don’t want to alienate you. But their feedback might do that. Give yourself time away from the feedback. Have a safety valve in a friend. Then go back to the feedback. Hopefully, it will be sincere and actionable. See what you can learn from it and use as much of it as you can. Some feedback, even though well meaning, can be discarded. “I know it was supposed to be red. I don’t like red and I am going to wear this.” That is fine.

If Gianetta has an overriding point it would be this: both sides need to have a good attitude about what is happening and be present in the moment. Interact with each other sincerely and with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

All of the above is just a summary of Gianetta’s class. There is a lot of good stuff if you get the chance to take it.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

Leadership

Feedback – The Halo effect – part 4

In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. In Part 3, I introduced SMART feedback as that substance. Now, let’s talk about the halo effect.

The halo effect is a predisposition to think positively about something based on external reason, the ways something looks, who is recommending it, etc. For this post, I am going to lump several related effects into this term, just to make it easier to talk about. I will be combining the halo effect, the horn effect (the opposite of the halo effect) and the recency effect into the term “halo” effect to discuss how our preconceptions can affect feedback and how to avoid that.

The halo effect, in this context, gets its name from a tendency in periodic performance reviews of people working to make a favorable impression in the time frame just before the review. The hope is that giving you that favorable impression will color your interpretation of less recent events.

If you are giving periodic reviews, you should avoid this effect as much as possible. The solution is to give timely feedback whenever possible (as in part 3) and keep good notes on any incidents, positive and negative, that occur. Your periodic review should cover the whole period in question. Since you addressed each incident as it occurred, you are really just recapping. You can and should note if you see a pattern of genuine improvement or a pattern of engaging in the halo effect before each review. Similarly, there might be a horn effect going on, where some negative event happens just before the review. This too should not be allowed to color the review.

To an extent, it is human nature to try to engage in halo effect behaviors. People in general want to be liked. If I present myself as friendly, competent, and well meaning, you might give me the benefit of the doubt. People also naturally want to play up their good traits and play down their bad traits. Again, this isn’t deception; this is human nature.

The job of the reviewer is to look at the time period as a whole. Containing your emotional response does not mean losing empathy or compassion. They are also on the scale. But it does mean giving context to the each incident. The halo effect is less of an issue when incidences are addressed quickly as they happen. The review is indeed a review. No new things should be sprung in a review.

The halo effect also occurs in one time only events, like judging. There are two issues to be aware of. One is simply a coloration of the person/object/performance based on who it is. “Master So-and-So always has his stuff together. I am sure this one is very good.” This is the classic halo effect. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. He has to prove it just like anyone else. The other issue is a tendency to evaluate the work in front of you compared to another work. For some competitions, this is what is expected and should be done. But for many, you are judging the object on its own merits, not compared to someone else’s entry or even other entries by the same person. Avoid such comparisons if at all possible. “The stitching wasn’t as good as this other one” Did it meet the criteria? If yes, then it gets scored appropriately.

While dealing with the halo effect feels like it should be cold and emotionless, it doesn’t have to be. The feedback should still be relatable and sincere. Knowing about the halo effect in all of its incarnations is a tool to help ensure your feedback actually is sincere; you are giving feedback about what is actually in front of you, not based on your preconceived notions of who made it or when the incident happened.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

Leadership, Uncategorized

Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3

In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. Let’s move on to what that substance looks like.

In the Human Resources world, feedback and goals are related. Goals are the way that feedback moves forward. If there is feedback given about a performance issue, there is likely a goal on how to improve it. If there is feedback on something you do well, there is often a goal to develop that further. A common way to write goals is the SMART method. You can read more about in the link and a google search will get you dozens of articles on it.

I am going to borrow the acronym and change the words a bit but it is still applicable. Feedback should be Sincere, Meaningful, Actionable, Relatable, and Timely.

I alluded to some of the problems with the sandwich method. Because most people aren’t skilled at giving feedback, the praise or the criticism can seem forced. I mentioned how there was a study that the employees actually just wanted the criticism straight up. Or as I sometimes say, “it turns out that people can sense BS.” The solution is for your feedback to be sincere.

Sincere

If you like something or think it was well-done, say so and mean it. If you didn’t like something or think that it could have been done better, say so and mean it. A word of caution though. Being direct is not the same as being harsh, cruel, or a jerk. The letters M and R will help with that later.

When you are sincere, your body language will automatically match your words as well. A disconnect between body language and words is the biggest indication of BS.

Sometimes we are too soft in our language and that isn’t sincere either.

But it is okay to say, “I really liked the use of color in this piece,” or to say “I see where you dropped some stitches”

For those who get in trouble with directness, with let’s say extreme sincerity, the problem is that sincerity isn’t enough for good feedback. It is the root of good feedback but there are more parts.

Meaningful

Feedback needs to be meaningful. Meaningful to whom? That is the question.

The feedback needs to be meaningful to the receiver. To know that requires conversation. Ask what the person is looking for. What is important to them? Assume this is a display situation or the Midrealm Tournament of Art. Actively listen to the person. What are they aware of? What do they seem to want to know about? What area do they seem to have trouble with? That is what feedback they are after.

We can expand this too. Let’s imagine an A&S Faire situation where there is criteria. By nature of the event, there will be feedback on many pieces of the object. You as the judge must provide feedback on what does the documentation look like, how is the writing, how are the choices of sources, etc. It is still worth a conversion about whatever it is the presenter cares about. They probably also want the feedback on the other things but you can provide what they truly want.

Similarly in a job/performance review situation. There are some pieces of feedback you have to give. They might already know very well about the mistake they made. You have to bring it up for the formal review. But you can also have a deeper conversation. Did they lack the skills to make a good decision in that circumstance and want them? That can be the meaningful feedback. Did they want to grow in another area?

Actionable

It is often part of the meaningful feedback but the feedback also has to be actionable. What does that mean? It has to be something that actually can be done by the person. That is important.

Again, you need to have a conversation. What can this person do? What options do they have access to? This is where feedback and leadership can intersect. Leaders often are able to direct towards or give access to resources. Part of your feedback might be “if you could have used this material, which you can find here and here” that is actionable. You have given the recipient something they actually can use.

Feedback which is not actionable is not meaningful. “If you only had access to 1 ton of gold, you could do this.” The person can’t have that kind of access and therefore can’t enact your feedback.

Let me give an example given to me by a friend.  This friend does Commedia and they asked a Performing Arts Laurel for feedback.  The feedback given was “clearly, you’re under rehearsed.”  This feedback is not meaningful.  What was missing?  As my friend relates it, as a long distance Commedia group, they will always hurt for rehearsal time.  What should they rehearse?  What didn’t work? The feedback didn’t give any indication on what was the actual problem?  It could have been a lack of chemistry between two actors.  Or one of the actors had timing issues.  Or one of the actors didn’t feel confident.  Or almost anything.   The feedback wasn’t really actionable either.  This is a long distance group.  For all any of us know, they are rehearsing as much as is possible.  They can’t rehearse more.

If you are going to give feedback, talk to the person and find out what they have done, what they can do, and where their challenges are.

Relatable

Good feedback, especially if it is negative, is relatable to the recipient. Relatability is a useful tool to help make negative feedback palatable. I am using this a synonym for empathetic.

In an art situation, if you are providing feedback, you are likely in a position of authority of some kind. You are the judge handing out points. You are the expert offering clues to the next step. You are the confidant offering incentive to keep going. The other person is vulnerable in showing you their art and asking you for your feedback.

But the performance had technical flaws. Or the object shows evidence of bad technique. It could be anything. By making your feedback relatable, you show that with work, the recipient can overcome the problem and achieve your level. That offers hope, even in the face of large amounts of criticism.

Let’s try this example. ” Your pronunciation of the German in Bach’s Gott mein Herz dir Dank is offputting. It really took me out of the moment. I suggest you look at finding a German tutor to help you. Here are a few sources” It has all of the letters so far. It is sincere. It is meaningful. It is actionable.

Verses this. “Your pronunciation of the German in Bach’s Gott mein Herz dir Dank is offputting. It really took me out of the moment. I remember the first time I sung that piece and I too really struggled with the German. I suggest you look at finding a German tutor to help you. Here are a few sources.”

Instead of “here is your problem and here is your solution”, the second option offers compassion, even with the criticism. All with one sentence. The recipient sees more than “I screwed that up,” and goes “okay, it is not just me. Others had trouble with this and overcame it.”

The relatability doesn’t have to necessarily be in the same area. By the time you are in a position to give feedback, you will have shared life experiences.

Even with performance issues this can be used. Bosses aren’t perfect and mistakes don’t necessarily mean immediate termination (there are few things that will). There is no need to project perfection. Relatable feedback shows that even with negative feedback, there is a way forward.

Timely

Feedback should also be timely. It should occur close to the when the event happened.

In a judging situation, this is pretty much automatic. The performance, object, or person is right in front of you. In job/performance review situations, this is more relevant.

Oftentimes, bosses don’t want to be seen as “bad guys.” There is a temptation to let a bad behavior slide. “Maybe it won’t be a habit.” Or “surely they know this is a problem.” It is better to address the problem sooner rather than later. It helps head off confusion later. “You never told me I shouldn’t do that.” It keeps the incident fresh in your mind.

It also applies to positive feedback. Positive feedback should also occur very close in time to the event that is being praised. It reinforces that what you are seeing or just saw is what you want to continue to see.

When doing periodic reviews, the maxim is there should be no surprises. You have already given feedback, positive and negative, at the time of the incidents; you are just recapping what has happened over that period of time.

If you are periodically reviewing some in the SCA, perhaps a dependent or someone’s growth as an artist, the timeliness becomes more important. Give your feedback at each incident, document it, then refer to those documents at that periodic review to show change over time.

With SMART feedback, the form doesn’t matter. It can be a sandwich. It can be part of a natural conversation. It can be isolated comments. It is the substance that matters. If you only have one item of feedback, because that is all you have or perhaps that is all the recipient wants, SMART covers your bases. The feedback will be sincere, meaningful, actionable, relatable, and timely. All of that can be accomplished in a few sentences or several paragraphs depending on your style.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

Leadership

Feedback – The sandwich method – Part 2

Time to talk about the sacred cow of feedback – the sandwich method.

Just so you know it is not just my opinion, here are some references. This list is not exhaustive.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281034931_The_Sandwich_Feedback_Method_not_very_tasty

https://hbr.org/2013/04/the-sandwich-approach-undermin

https://www.findlay.edu/blog/feedback-sandwich-approach

https://lifehacker.com/stop-using-the-sandwich-method-to-give-feedback-1776592001

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jurgenappelo/2015/08/17/ditch-the-praise-sandwich-make-feedback-wraps/#16a9a167fa4a

There are more. As I said in Part 1, Human Kinetics is different than many companies in that we make products designed to improve how people communicate and interact. We look at our own internal processes regularly. Using research, I was able to persuade my company to change how it did performance reviews, which include how to give feedback. We adopted the method that Adobe uses and removed the feedback sandwich as well. Such a change required proof and diligence. The change came because the new way was better.

For those who don’t know, the sandwich method is basically “say a positive thing, say a negative thing, say another positive thing.” It is sometimes also called the compliment sandwich, or the hamburger method. It is a fine method IF you are skilled at it AND the person you are using it with wants the feedback that way.

Reasons to use the sandwich method are:

  • May ease the sting of hearing difficult comments
  • Encourages specificity in the feedback process
  • Allows employees to increase their receptiveness to criticism
  • Enables meetings to end on a positive note
  • Can be useful for managers who find it difficult to engage in criticism

So what is the problem then? There are two major ones.

Most people aren’t good at eating these sandwiches. What am I talking about? A standard method of getting your dog to take the medicine is to hide it peanut butter. Since your dog likes the peanut butter, it doesn’t notice the medicine. That is the problem, it is too easy to pass up the “criticism” part since it is buried in the praise. Another problem illustrated by the dog-medicine analogy is that sooner or later, the dog starts associating peanut butter with the medicine. Same with people and the sandwich method, sooner or later, the moment you offer praise, the recipient starts to wonder what the bad news is.

Or to borrow from these articles

  • Including positives may undermine the criticism involved, thus rendering that criticism ineffective
  • The method trains employees to distrust praise, as they will begin to anticipate the criticism that comes along with it
  • The method detracts from praise when it is truly due
  • The method may serve more as a crutch for managers who struggle with giving feedback rather than as a tool for helping employees improve
  • It may give employees a diluted or inaccurate understanding of their work performance and what changes are required of them

According to the first study, managers liked using the sandwich method because they felt less like the bad guy. But the employees actually wanted the criticism straight up without the praise!

The second problem is implicit in the first, not only are people bad at eating them, they are bad at making them. It is too easy to make a bad sandwich. The praise can be too little, the criticism too harsh. Or the opposite, the praise is too much and criticism is too little.

Now this is in the business world where you are normally giving and getting feedback from the same people, often on a fixed, periodic basis. Why not the sandwich method as a one-time, or special circumstance?

The main plus to the sandwich method is that it is easy to teach, in theory. Just find two things to praise and one for the person to work on and you are golden. It assumes people are good at identifying items to give feedback on, good at constructing feedback, and good at relating that feedback.

For the SCA, it is often the desire to make the other person comfortable that we use it. Like the study above referenced, we don’t want to be seen as the bad guy. Because the entrant KNOWS the bad news is coming, the praise feels fake. Add to the fact that we are often judging something we know little about, how can we make a good sandwich? We praise that which is trivial and criticize that which is next to impossible. Then we have to come up with a second item to praise!

Lastly, the sandwich method is formulaic. What if I only have 1 item of feedback? What about 5? Can I make a dagwood sandwich (two praises but tons of other stuff in between)? Do I make a club sandwich (praise/criticism/praise/criticism/praise)?

The natural response is to get better, to just train people better at feedback. I agree with that. Again, there are problems. There is no requirement that people get training. There is no budget, no mandate, no way to force this training to happen. Good feedback can come in a variety of forms, some just as easy as the sandwich method. Many are more natural to use than the sandwich method. In the SCA, we seem to insist on the form, because it is easy to teach, rather than the substance, which is easier to use by both parties. While not a formal survey by any means, my canvassing and my experience is that people want the substance. Digging through the form to get it is not helpful.

I am not suggesting that everyone stop using this. I am suggesting we stop recommending it as the default method. If you are skilled at using it and your audience wants it, do it. That is one tool.

As I said in part 1, there are no binary answers here. What works is sincere, actionable, and meaningful feedback. That can take a variety of forms. It means more listening, less judgementalism. It means the person giving feedback needs to be an active learner in this situation. You probably don’t know much about the thing to be judged. Listen, learn, ask questions, figure out what this person needs, and deliver if you can. It works for performance issues in business as well. Be sincere, provide feedback that can be done, and will be meaningful to the situation. Again, this isn’t easy.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6