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Stephanie Thoma: “Don’t forget the positive”

My experience giving feedback includes needing to have those coaching conversations that encompass some tough love. It’ll be constructive, but not always what the person you’re speaking with wants to hear. The key is to listen and ask the person you’re providing feedback if they have considered certain viewpoints or what they think of them. […]

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My experience giving feedback includes needing to have those coaching conversations that encompass some tough love. It’ll be constructive, but not always what the person you’re speaking with wants to hear. The key is to listen and ask the person you’re providing feedback if they have considered certain viewpoints or what they think of them. It’s about a collaborative conversation versus “because I said so” type of discussion. A feeling of deep understanding and respect on both ends is paramount.

Don’t forget the positive: Getting negative feedback can sting, so if there’s anything they are doing well, or ideally above standard, ensure that you are just as vocal about that, positively reinforcing it, as you are with more constructive feedback.


Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Thoma.

Stephanie Thoma is a networking strategy coach, event host, and founder of Confident Introvert. She has facilitated over 1,000 events and established a fulfilling career helping people generate meaningful connections at online and in-person events. Her mission is to help introverts feel confident and establish relationships that catapult them forward in their career.

As a connector, Stephanie’s views around networking have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and Thrive Global. She has also been invited to speak at Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston Universities as well as internationally. To date, Stephanie has helped thousands of people celebrate their strengths, step into their authentic confidence, and make meaningful connections.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Mybackstory is varied- I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and subscribed to an idea I thought looked good- skirt suits and climbing the corporate ladder, and through the years discovered what was most authentic was doing my own thing. Creating my own work. I got started after transitioning from a 9-to-5 to freelancing, to my own business. It was gradual and every step of the way has prepared me for where I am today.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Confident Introvert stand out is that it defies stereotypes. People oftentimes have a vision of someone who’s confident, and someone who is contemplative and on the quieter side may not fit that bill. My mission is to redefine what we think confidence looks like so that we can do the internal work and focus on what it feels like. Confident Introvert also redefines networking to mean nothing more than making friends as an adult. It’s natural, normal, and a give-and-take relationship with other business professionals where maybe you’ll help someone now, or later, or refer them to someone else who can help.

A story includes a past client we’ll call Tasha. Tasha was working in an “okay” job, and although it wasn’t fulfilling it paid enough and she liked her coworkers enough. She wasn’t sure if she could do any better, so she stayed. She window-shopped for 1.5 years without luck, and within 2-months of working together, she landed a job that paid her more, with more aligned work, and overall was more of what she thought was out of reach but had wanted so badly.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

An interesting story from my earlier career was deciding to only engage in work that was fun and/or meaningful. It led me to jobs such as celebrity blog ghostwriting, learning to talk like anyone, and traveling the US market research participant recruitment and interviewing, learning to talk to anyone.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A funny mistake I made when first starting: doing so much for free! It wasn’t that funny, but I thought: once I have been featured in X, and have spoken at Y, THEN I’ll be able to charge Z. The thing is, people will want you to do free work regardless, so start charging what you’re worth sooner, guided by the quality of your work versus these external markers that don’t make you, they only validate what’s already of value.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I recommend a solitude sandwich, the daily 3–2–1 and the tech-free code of 1–1–1 from my book Confident Introvert, to avoid burnout. A solitude sandwich is when you take time before and after an event to decompress and have alone time (the bread) while the PB/filling is the event itself. The daily 3–2–1 is a tech-free hour before bed composed of 30-minutes of reading, 20-minutes of journaling and 10-minutes of meditation. This allows us to have a healthy amount of relaxing input, then purge rumination, and finally, clear our mind to invite a restful slumber. The tech-free code of 1–1–1 takes place over the longer term: taking 1-hour of no tech per day, 1-day per week and 1-week per year. This allows us to stay true to a human’s true nature, ideally within a natural nature space during a retreat or camping for the weekly or annual portions.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as the ability to conduct oneself in a way that is motivated by one’s values and ethics, while considering public welfare. Leading by example, and seeking to empower others to make the impact they’re here to make. A true leader facilitates.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Another excerpt from my book Confident Introvert: the breath of 4–4–4. Before any big meeting take a deep breath in through your nose for 1–2–3–4, hold, then exhale through your mouth for 1–2–3–4. Repeat at least 3x and you’ll feel calmer in no time.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

My experience giving feedback includes needing to have those coaching conversations that encompass some tough love. It’ll be constructive, but not always what the person you’re speaking with wants to hear. The key is to listen and ask the person you’re providing feedback if they have considered certain viewpoints or what they think of them. It’s about a collaborative conversation versus “because I said so” type of discussion. A feeling of deep understanding and respect on both ends is paramount.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.” We want to give feedback that is kind, but not to the point that the call-to-action or source of the issue is concealed or confusing. Clearly state what the person does well, as well as an area for improvement, and ask about their thoughts on the matter. For example, “Kevin, you’ve done a great job on outreach, and I have noticed that the turnaround time is less than usual. Curious to learn your thoughts on why that is.”

We’ll also want to make it concrete and actionable, and attribute the feedback to a behavior, versus the person him or herself. For example, “Kevin, we will need to have a turnaround of 5 days instead of 8 moving forward. Will you start with that turnaround next week?”

According to attribution theory in psychology, we tend to attribute negative traits in others to how they inherently are, and in ourselves to a “bad day.” If we take this same consideration with others, depersonalizing the constructive feedback, we will be able to get more traction.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Ask for their point of view: Instead of going off of information from a colleague, or your interpretation of events, begin a feedback session but hearing what your member thinks or feels.
  2. Use reflective listening: Rather than passively listening to what is being said, maintain eye contact and nod, and restate what they are saying to you.
  3. Provide options: Instead of saying “do xyz now, no questions asked,” provide a couple of options, and see what resonates with your team member.
  4. Ask for feedback on the feedback: Ask them to come up with their own solution to the problem for engagement. After all, you hired them because they have the expertise you may not have.
  5. Don’t forget the positive: Getting negative feedback can sting, so if there’s anything they are doing well, or ideally above standard, ensure that you are just as vocal about that, positively reinforcing it, as you are with more constructive feedback.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

It’s easy to misinterpret an email, especially when critical feedback is involved. You’re missing a lot of body language cues and tonality of voice. If this is your only option, then ensure to have some cushion. Begin by asking what they think and how they feel about how they’re doing. Be clear about your expectations and how your expectations can be met so that they know what needs to shift, and when.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

The best time to give critical feedback can be after a misstep if done in private and with an air of calm, or after the fact, assuming it’s more minor and potentially was a one-off incident. Encourage your employees to establish regular 1:1s with you, and keep the feedback, positive and negative, consistent so that they always know where they stand.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is someone who lets people manage themselves while offering guidance. That sweet spot between micromanaging and being too hands-off, a great boss will let you know what the priorities are, and trust you to execute on the “how.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire a movement of moving away from hourly-based fees, into value-based. That was someone who has honed a skill can be paid for the quality of the work that they do, without feeling stuck and confined by an arbitrary 9-to-5 schedule in which their work may only take up a fraction of that time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A favorite life lesson quote is “what other people think of you is none of your business.” When I shifted my focus while networking from the “me view” (what do they think of me? etc.) to a “you view” (how can I serve?) everything changed. As you become more visible people will strongly resonate and love your work, and others will really NOT. The idea is to show up for those who get it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can stay connected on social media and on my site. You’re also welcome to grab my free networking remotely resource sheet at stephaniethoma.com/freebie

General site: stephaniethoma.com

Other social:

facebook.com/stephaniethoma

instagram.com/stephaniemthoma

linkedin.com/in/stephaniemthoma

twitter.com/stephaniethoma

My book Confident Introvert: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089ZZ6T58?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420&fbclid=IwAR33ff1ygDJQdE5HNyy2brb1RCZYeWRiF-T361X3KjrfO2i3-YN0SgOnguQ

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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