Lindsey Dinneen of VidaDance: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful
Deliver the communication at the right time. Giving negative feedback to someone in front of someone else, especially is group, is not the right time. Be sensitive to your surroundings and other people present when providing feedback.
As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Dinneen.
Lindsey is an entrepreneur, creator, learner, and dancer. She founded and is the Artistic Director of the professional dance company, VidaDance, the founder and host of the podcast, Artfully Told, and a life and business coach with Actalyst. She is passionate about helping women and men live their most successful, empowered, and inspired lives.
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?
Absolutely! Thank you for having me. My career path has been an interesting one, with a lot of different twists and turns. I grew up dancing, and became a professional ballet and modern dancer right after college. I started my own professional company, VidaDance, in 2015, and in 2016, founded a dance studio that I ran for four years. I have been the Business Development Manager of a retail boutique, the Vice President of a business services company, a Managing Innkeeper of a bed and breakfast, an Adjunct Instructor at a community college, a Marketing Consultant for several start-ups, and the Human Resources & Office Manager for a company that owns franchised restaurants. Most recently, I started a podcast sharing people’s stories about meaningful encounters with art, called Artfully Told, and I am in the process of launching my life and business coaching business, Actalyst.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m biased, but VidaDance is a special place. We have always wanted to produce dance performances that resonate with our audiences, whether they have an interest or background in dance, or not! One of the ways we do this is by creating shows that incorporate a wide variety of dance styles, including ballet, modern, jazz, tap, hip hop, ballroom, and world dance. If you’re not as interested in ballet, but you like other forms, you’ll see it all during the show. Another way we’re different is that we create entertaining, easy-to-follow storylines, so you don’t have to be a dance aficionado to know what’s going on. Each choreographer writes a short description about his or her piece so that our audiences know the backstory or inspiration behind it. We are a very inclusive group of dancers in everything from race to age to body type, because we know the power of dance to connect and inspire all of us. We highly encourage collaboration and laughter in our company culture so that everyone feels valued. One story that comes to mind is when we performed as part of a collaborative show. Most of the content was abstract and had darker themes, and the piece we performed was a lighthearted, lovely duet to “What a Wonderful World.” After the show, a couple came up to us and told us that they had been feeling discouraged lately about the state of the world, and about some difficult things they were dealing with, but that watching us perform that piece had reminded them that there was still hope, beauty, and joy to be found. That touched my heart so deeply.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Oh my. I have so many interesting stories, especially from a backstage perspective, because live theater is always exciting! One memory that stands out is of our “Murphy’s Law” set of shows that occurred about five years ago. It was our second year as a company, and we were performing at the Kansas City Fringe Festival for five nights. One night, a dancer forgot her costumes and was late to the performance, which meant that several other dancers quickly had to come up with creative solutions to fill her spots as needed in the pieces she’d be missing. Another night, a different dancer forgot her shoes at home, so while her husband went back to get them, the rest of us figured out a way to lend her shoes because her husband wasn’t going to make it back before the show started. Yet another night, one of the dancers accidentally entered stage a solid 30 seconds before his entrance was supposed to take place, which meant he had to find a way to get out of the other dancers’ ways, yet not look like it was a mistake. We’ve all had many good laughs about that set of shows, but you know what? It showed me just how incredibly adaptable, innovative, and strong my dancers are, and how kind they are as a group. No one was grumpy about the mistakes. We all make them, and so it was easy for us to simply problem solve instead of complain. And, that was the first year we won Best of Venue for the KC Fringe Festival, so it also showed me that with a bit of tenacity, hard work, and determination, anything can be achieved.
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?
I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes over the years! One of the mistakes I made early on as a director and leader of my company was that, when I gave feedback, I didn’t give it specifically. In the world of dance, feedback and corrections are essential so that everyone dances together correctly, and that proper technique is maintained. Because I was working with my peers, I thought that it would be kinder to give generalized corrections to the group as a whole instead of “calling out” specific people who needed a quick tweak here or there. What that led to was a lot of confusion (and some funny moments) because my lack of specificity meant no one quite what to change, or who was the one who needed to change. My dancers were quick to point out they preferred me to be specific, so that they could continue moving forward with excellence. It was through their encouragement that I avoid generalizations and call out someone when needed that greatly improved my style of feedback.
What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Built-in growth and learning opportunities are key in this area. Each position you create should have built-in growth opportunities with positive reinforcement potential for each opportunity. For example, an associate sales manager position might primarily present premade sales material to potential clients. However, that position could also have a built-in opportunity to create customized sales materials after certain performance metrics are reached. Ideally, these opportunities would be elements of the next progression in the corporate structure, as this would be an inherent method of preparing and training for advancing in roles. Positive reinforcement could be a bonus, increased salary, increased autonomy, increased responsibility, increased inclusion in decision-making, etc. I also believe that employers need to encourage their employees to take days off, and that the culture of the company as a whole needs to be one that sets great value on a great work/life balance.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the art of guiding people to be the best versions of themselves, for themselves, and for the group. It is being in a position of authority that is used to organize, uplift, and carry a team to success. Leadership is not dictatorship; it’s collaboration and cooperation. It’s connecting with others, seeing a different point of view, and then making a choice that elevates the entire group to the next level.
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?
It is vital to take care of your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing for everyone, but especially as a leader, or you will be depleted and have nothing left with which to lead your team. I use a combination of meditation and visualization before going into any high-stakes situation. In general, every workday, I have a routine where I begin my morning with guided breathing, gratitude, meditation, exercise, and visualization. That immediately puts me into a positive mood, with which anything feels possible to have a positive and successful outcome. For example, I had a situation once where I was needing to have a very difficult conversation with a client. I prepared ahead of time by going over some possible scenarios that might occur during our conversation, and then visualizing the outcome I desired. The morning of the conversation, I meditated, visualized, and got ready for the day. I wore an outfit that made me feel extra confident, and then I embraced the day. The meeting went smoothly, and the outcome was desirable. It was proof to me that this method works.
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?
Absolutely. I have managed several teams over the course of my career so far, from leading just one person, to a team of over 30, but I will mostly be drawing illustrations from my experience as the Artistic Director of my professional dance company. With VidaDance, I have organized and led large teams to create professional productions for the past five years. That includes dancers, choreographers, technical crew, designers, and more. Feedback to employees is important in general, but is absolutely crucial when producing a show that includes the coordination of many different individuals coming together for a common goal. Feedback happens multiple times a day, every single day. The experience of having led my core group of dancers over the past five years has provided me the opportunity to learn how to communicate feedback effectively.
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?
Of course. There’s no way to be an effective leader if you’re unwilling or uncomfortable with providing feedback. Feedback is the key to growth, both for the individual in question, and also for the organization as a whole. Being honest and direct when giving feedback is important to establish and maintain open communication. Dancing around an issue only promotes confusion, and in the end, does nothing to change the behavior in question. There are many ways to be honest while also being kind. I like to follow the advice I once received. When faced with the decision about how/when to give feedback, you always ask yourself, “Is it true? Is it wise? Is it necessary? Is it kind? And is it at the right time?” If you can answer “yes” to all five checkpoints, proceed. If not, look into that area more before providing the feedback.
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.
Based on the five checkpoints I mentioned above, the following framework works well for feedback:
- Be truthful. Only say what is true and stick to the facts. Don’t get sidetracked with speculative feedback.
- Be wise. Express the feedback thoughtfully and with sage advice for moving forward.
- Only communicate when it is necessary. Sometimes we feel compelled to give feedback because it’s “expected” in some way. Not everything needs to be spoken. Ensure the feedback you’re giving is, indeed, necessary to share.
- Be kind. This should go without saying. Deliver feedback through the lens of respect and appreciation for the person’s contribution to the company. Imagine how it would feel if it were you receiving your feedback, and phrase your communication accordingly.
- Deliver the communication at the right time. Giving negative feedback to someone in front of someone else, especially is group, is not the right time. Be sensitive to your surroundings and other people present when providing 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 is definitely better to give feedback in person whenever possible, or at the very least, via a Zoom call or some other way where you can get real-time responses, including body language. If you are confined to an email for a feedback, it’s important to write each line as if you were getting the feedback yourself. As in, if you were on the receiving end of this feedback, how would it feel for you to read it? Be as kind and considerate as you can be, while being truthful and straightforward. Once you have come up with a first draft, let it simmer for awhile before coming back to reread it. Remember a great piece of advice when giving feedback, especially when it comes to emails, is to sandwich your more negative feedback with positive feedback, because positive reinforcement goes a long way to soften anything.
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?
I think that it depends entirely on the situation. If there’s an issue that is grievous enough to warrant immediate feedback, then it’s important to take the time right there and then. If it’s something that is upsetting to you, but doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, taking the time to cool down and first think through what you’re going to say is very helpful. I believe that consistent feedback, especially positive feedback, is better than an annual performance review. Reviews can put both parties on edge, and a once-a-year event means that it is likely a lot of feedback will be given at one time. Spreading out feedback over time allows for more natural conversations to take place.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?
A great boss is someone who brings out the best in each of his or her employees. It is someone who consistently shows appreciation for the work of his or employees, and who demonstrates through his or her words and actions that there is an atmosphere of respect, kindness, and honesty. Personally, I have a very open and democratic style of management. I value input from my employees. I have adopted a “coaching” style of leadership, in that my goal is to help each of my employees be the most successful they can be, and achieve their own goals (even apart from my company), so that the company as a whole can flourish.
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. :-)
If I could inspire people to start a movement, it would be a campaign to ignite kindness and empathy towards all humans. I think now, more than ever, this is so needed. The “pay it forward” movement would occur daily. Each of us would have enough confidence in our self-worth to understand that everyone is going through challenges. Instead of being unreasonable, disrespectful, or unkind, we would find daily reasons to pay the love forward. It would promote a lifestyle of empathy, kindness, and compassion. This movement would literally change the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is quite straightforward! It’s simply, “Onward and upward. Good things are coming.” It has been the quote I come back to consistently, especially when times are tough, and it seems like nothing is going the way I had hoped. Coming back to “onward and upward” reminds me of several important lessons:
- I have the power to choose positivity in this moment
- My life’s trajectory is moving forward and higher
- Nothing is going to hold me down and back
- I will continue to do good things with my life as I grow
- I expect that good things will be coming to me
It is a re-centering motto that serves to lift me up and ensure I look forward to my future.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’d love to connect with anyone on social media! You can connect with me on Facebook and Instagram with @lindseydinneenofficial.
Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.