Learning from Love Island: the importance of ‘having a chat’

Learning from Love Island: the importance of ‘having a chat’
Opinion: Career Leaders

Give and receive feedback early and often to build trust, improve relationships, and drive growth. Don’t be afraid to have ‘a chat’ — it’s how we learn and ‘crack on.’

Imagine having a boss who, when nudged to complete a company 360-degree feedback survey, says, “I haven’t done it because I think it’s stupid.” I’m not making it up. It’s a true story.

Needless to say, the person who was seeking feedback felt pretty disappointed. Without the input of their line manager, they only had 180-degree feedback, or half the picture. However, worse than that, their boss was signalling not only that they saw no benefit in contributing feedback, but they were also unlikely to welcome receiving it either. What an extraordinary position to take when you have a responsibility for the development of people in your team.

Those who know me will have heard me talk often about the importance of ‘the benefit of the doubt’. So, in that spirit, I wondered whether it was the particular 360-degree survey deployed by the company that this boss thought was inadequate, rather than giving the giving of feedback per se that was the issue. Quantitative surveys can be designed so they become rather tedious ‘tick box’ exercises. For example, being asked to score against predetermined corporate leadership criteria like “passion to win” can get mind-numbingly dull to complete, especially if you have too many of them to do.

Certainly, when I was at Aviva, there was a time of year when I was asked to input into the 360-degree feedback surveys of my peers, as well as my boss and direct reports. It was extremely time-consuming, particularly if you made use of the ‘comments’ boxes to explain your scoring. But putting aside potential criticism of a questionnaire, if you are someone’s boss, it seems inexcusable to me not to be willing to engage with a process, however imperfect, and whatever your private thoughts on it are.

There are some things we are required to do as a corporate citizen that are just part of cooperating in big bureaucratic organisations. It is notable too that this particular line manager didn’t offer an alternative approach. So, we can be fairly sure that they genuinely thought completing this 360 was pointless, full stop.

Being told what people think about how we work helps us to learn

Yes, of course, we can just keep going without giving or receiving feedback and hope for the best. But it’s a bit hit and miss.

Early in my career, I had a boss who said, ‘You’ll know if you aren’t cutting it because you will be fired!”

I thought it was a shocking abrogation of responsibility. I have often wondered what sits behind this laissez-faire attitude to performance management. What is the point of merely observing mistakes being made until enough have accumulated to require a formal warning? It may be partly explained as an aversion to potential conflict and the challenge of dealing with someone who may be demotivated, upset, or angered by what you are telling them.

In addition, a belief in the ‘sink or swim’ model is often associated with people who are not inclined to train or manage other people in the first place, either because of the time and effort involved or because they don’t know how to do it.

There is no doubt that the process of giving and receiving feedback is a time-consuming business, whatever methodology is deployed. So, to that extent, creating a culture where it is celebrated and encouraged is vital. If performance reviews are seen to be taken seriously and obviously an integral part of achieving promotions and new opportunities, people are more likely to participate. It helps to have established customs and rituals underpinned by proper training for line managers on how to get the most out of such conversations, with particular attention given to inclusive practices.

Taking inspiration from Love Island

I admit that I have watched Love Island for the first time this year. One of the many things I have been fascinated by is the way in which contestants grapple with the necessity of giving each other constant feedback both as potential partners and co-habitants. Putting a bunch of complete strangers into a villa where they are living in dormitory conditions, with little privacy in any daily routines, combined with the added dimension of courtship is a recipe for conflict. So, language and rituals have emerged to facilitate giving people feedback, with islanders “pulling each other out for a chat” when something needs to be resolved.

I understand that before entering the show, contestants are given guidance across a range of topics to help them navigate their time there. These include mutually respectful behaviour in relationships and appropriate language around disability, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, as well as understanding microaggressions. Their education explores inclusive language and behaviour, creating safe spaces, and being a good ally. This preparation protects contestants and the show from the kind of unacceptable headline-grabbing rows, bullying, and discrimination seen in too many reality shows historically. As a result, the islanders can role model respectful conflict resolution techniques and relationship building.

There are so many aspects of the show that I find toe-curling, and I have had to keep reminding myself that it is not aimed at me. However, I do find the way in which contestants manage to enter into a loop of constant feedback with one another pretty impressive. While it may seem like an unlikely place from which to draw inspiration on 360-degree feedback, it actually reminds us of several important principles:

  • Deliver feedback directly yourself rather than relying on other people to do it for you.

  • There is always a power dynamic in play that needs thinking about if you want to put someone at ease. Just as they do in Love Island, people in our companies hope for encouragement and a happy outcome and fear bad news which might lead to “being dumped.”

  • Little and often is better than storing up a long list of niggles that can seem to come out of the blue. Tackling issues in the moment keeps the relationship real and builds trust.

  • Established rituals like “can we have a chat” takes some of the sting out of being called out, by using familiar language to signal that something is up and needs discussion. The more it happens all around us, the less of a drama it is.

  • Feedback, whether positive or negative, is best given in private. It’s not always easy to be honest with people, and emotions can run high, so removing difficult conversations from a public setting is always preferable.

  • Consulting with other people who may have witnessed an incident or certain behaviour is a helpful way to gain perspective. They may have noticed things you didn’t or be able to offer additional insight.

  • People benefit from being given specific examples of their behaviour to help them understand.

  • It’s important to listen to someone’s response to make sure there is clarity on both sides.

  • Once feedback has been given, it’s important to give people the chance to change their behaviour.

  • When people do respond and behave differently, offer positive reinforcement by acknowledging that you have noticed and appreciate the change. 

  • You may have to try several times before someone really understands what you are driving at.

I have watched many episodes of this year’s Love Island. At no time when someone has asked someone for “a chat” have I witnessed a response like “No, I think that would be stupid.”

So, when a colleague asks for feedback, don’t make them feel “mugged off” by refusing to engage. Show them “where your heads at” so they can learn and “crack on, like. You know what I mean.”

Jan Gooding is one of the UK’s best-known brand marketers, having worked with Aviva, BT, British Gas, Diageo and Unilever. She is now an executive coach, chair of PAMCo and Given. She writes for The Media Leader each month.

Career Leaders: The Media Leader‘s weekly bulletin with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated about media careers, training, development and wellbeing.
Sign up for free to ensure you stay up to date every Tuesday.

Media Jobs