“Are you serious? Is she really wearing a black thong under a light colored dress? That’s inappropriate,” Justine, a fellow runner said moments after our large group took our seats at a local restaurant.

It was a beautiful September day, we had just finished a 5K, and we scored outdoor seating at a tasty restaurant. Life was good.

Except for the increasingly cruel comments about the busser, who constantly walked past our table as she did her best to help with the sudden onslaught of hungry customers. You would have thought the young busser purposely wore that outfit just to irritate Justine.

“Someone needs to tell her that’s unacceptable!” Justine repeatedly announced.

Remembering back to a similar experience I had with a young woman at a conference years before, I knew a couple things:

  1. She picked the outfit she thought would look the best, given her limited experience, and perhaps, resources at the time.
  2. Young women are remarkably sensitive about feedback when it comes to appearance.

Even though my intentions were good and I had thought to give the feedback in private, I was missing a few key ingredients to giving candid, compassionate, feedback.

My results?

Embarrassment… on both sides.

I learned my lesson the hard way—don’t give critical feedback without a trusting connection and a commitment to helping the other person get better results. Simply pointing out the problem wasn’t enough to help this college student who had, as it turned out, borrowed the clothes she was wearing.

Remembering that experience, I thought hard about how to get my breakfast buddy to stop unloading cruel comments into my right ear and help the busser get the feedback she needed in the most candid, compassionate way possible.

“Who’s the manager in of this restaurant,” I asked the young busser privately.

“She is,” the busser said, pointing to a woman who was outside helping with our group.

“How long have you worked here?” I asked.

“A few months.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s a good job.”

“Do you like the manager?”


“Do you respect her?”

“Very much so,” she said with a sincerity that was palpable.

“Cool,” I said, “I going to grab the restroom. Do you mind letting her know I’d like to talk with her inside?”

“Of course.”

Moments later, I thanked the manager for accommodating our group, told her how delicious the food was, and then (after all her curious employees lost interest) I asked about her young busser.

“I’ve already addressed it. It’s a simple uniform issue. That’s it,” she said.

“Great!” I said, thanked her again and then headed back out to my table to let Justine know that the young busser had the feedback she needed. With that disruption out of the way, we got to focus on enjoying the food and conversation.

If your intentions are to help another person get a better result, consider taking the time to build trust. The fastest way to build trust is to demonstrate humility before giving feedback.

If your timing or resources are tight and you cannot take the time, consider finding someone who can.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

P.S. Looking for a high-energy speaker who consistently delivers actionable content? Contact me directly at 240.401.4397, or email me at Misti @ Misti Burmeister.com.