Free to Be You and Me was the soundtrack of my childhood. When I see in my mind’s eye the living-room of the little red ranch house where I grew up I hear “It’s All Right to Cry” and “Housework” playing in the background. But there is one song called “Helping” that sticks in my head no matter where I go, randomly playing on my internal playlist:
Some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping’s all about
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without.
In the song Agatha Fry makes a pie, and Christopher John helps bake it, and then Christopher John mows the lawn and Agatha Fry helps rake it. Such nice, helpful children. But then some poor kid named Jennifer Joy makes a toy and a jerk named Zachary Zugg helps break it.
Last week I was Zachary Zugg.
I didn’t mean to be, really. I was asked to help review some television spots. I’d read the scripts a while ago, and was eager to be a part of the final steps of production. So I sat in a room with a bunch of fabulous people who had spent months trying to wrestle these spots into life, taking notes as the spots unfolded. I had a lot of notes.
When the lights flipped on, I wish I had said: “Thanks for showing me the spots! Can you tell me if these are ready for airing, or if there is still another round of post production?”
Instead I said: “Thanks for showing me the spots! Would you like my feedback?” The staff dutifully said they would, and I provided it. And then I watched their shoulders slump and defeat creep into their faces. They hadn’t planned for another round of revision, and in fact it was pretty much impossible to take action on any of my suggestions. All my feedback had done was make good people feel badly about a product they had struggled over for months and that could not be reasonably changed at this point in time.
Feedback is great and useful, but some times are the wrong times. It’s like when my son shows me his homework and I read it and tell him he made mistakes and he bursts into tears. Wait, what? Didn’t he ask for my help? He didn’t actually. I assumed my son wanted help with his punctuation, but he just wanted a hug because he’d finished his work. And I assumed “Would you like to review the spots?” meant the same thing as “Could you provide feedback on the spots?” I was wrong on both counts.
Next time someone asks me to review something (spots, scripts, proposals, homework) I plan to ask a few questions:
What would you like me to focus on?
Is this the final version? Do you plan more edits?
Would you like my feedback, or is this just a FYI?
There are times when you are only being asked to give a final product your blessing, and you can’t, and you must send it back to the drawing board. But my Zachary Zugg experience wasn’t one of those times. There was no need for me to help break what others had carefully built. Because some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without.