I hate unrequested ‘feedback’. Personally, when I want to better myself, I seek feedback from folks whose opinions I trust. But sometimes, when I do something that annoys someone else, they take it upon themselves to offer me ‘feedback’ to tell me what I did ‘wrong,’ too often based on beliefs we don’t share.
Given we could all benefit from positive feedback once in a while, I would like to propose ways to offer respectful feedback as part of a servant-leader model.
I’ll begin with a story. I recently shared an annoyance with a group of friends and was quite surprised to be met with silence. I did get one helpful comment afterwards:
“If the time comes you ever want to learn how to get the group’s attention in a way that they can hear and respond, I’d be happy to offer suggestions. I’ve been a member of the group for a long time and they have a certain pattern to their sharing. I’m here if you need me.”
To me, that’s great feedback. Gives me information and choice, not to mention a great resource to learn from; no blame, no insult, no assumptions, no bias. And he trusted me to discover my own timing for learning. Win/Win/Win.
SOMEONE IS MADE WRONG
These days it seems acceptable for one person (the Giver) to tell another (the Receiver) how to improve when acting in a manner deemed ‘unacceptable’ to the Giver. Indeed, books on feedback explain how Receivers can ‘overcome’ their ‘lack of perspective’ – obviously a biased, insulting judgment that assumes
- the Giver is right (and the Receiver wrong),
- the Giver has the moral entitlement to judge the Receiver,
- the Giver’s viewpoint is accurate (and the Receiver should heed it),
- the Giver has THE answer (based on his/her idiosyncratic beliefs),
- the Giver uses the best verbiage to be understood accurately, without incurring resistance or hurt,
- there is no bias involved,
- the Receiver doesn’t have the tools, skills, or understanding to do what’s ‘right’ on their own.
Everyone has the right to speak their mind of course. But I don’t know anyone who welcomes what might be spurious comments based on Another’s biases.
The idea of someone telling Another that they have a problem and the Giver has THE answer, assumes it’s ok for the Giver to use their own biases to try to convince the Receiver they’re wrong and they need to change. And that is well outside of my personal, moral beliefs.
I’m aware that often a boss needs to help an employee make adjustments, or a parent needs to modify a teenager’s unsuccessful choices. But the baseline remains the same: No one has the right to proclaim a moral high ground, to expect anyone else to change because of personal feelings, biases, and assumptions, to assume the Receiver has no say, no unique judgment, no relevant thought process that could become part of an agreeable solution.
TWO MINDS BETTER THAN ONE
Of course, because nobody is perfect (although we each think we are), we sometimes need a reality check. For those times, there’s a way Givers can create feedback that will enable win/win conversations and excellence. Here are several issues that must be overcome:
BIAS: The assumption that feedback is needed is often based on a Giver wanting a Receiver to change as per the Giver’s unique beliefs and values. Sure, if there is a danger involved, a Receiver must ultimately choose new behaviors. But in general, when a Giver assumes the ‘right’ road without identifying a path to partnership, or recognizing there might be a specific reason the Receiver made their choices, any discussion becomes win/lose.
WRONG ASSUMPTIONS: Too often a Giver’s feedback assumes the Receiver is wrong, or doesn’t possess the skills or tools to do it better, and goes forth pushing their own agendas. With these assumptions, any feedback will most likely be ignored, especially if it offends, insults, or in some way harms the Receiver. This certainly doesn’t set in motion a path to positive behavior modification.
RIGHT VS WRONG: What makes one person right and one person wrong? Just asking. While it might be clear in the Giver’s mind, it’s often up for interpretation.
WRONG LANGUAGING: How does the Giver know for certain that their approach to instigate change is the best approach? My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? discusses how brains misunderstand, mistranslate, and misinterpret incoming information based on the listener’s mental models and brain synapses – nothing whatsoever to do with the facts or content coming in. Unfortunately, we all assume our speech is ‘easily understandable’ and others should hear what we mean. Nope.
ME VS YOU: Why should I listen to you, or make changes in my normal behavior patterns, when I don’t agree with you and you make no sense to me?
WHO’S OUTCOME IS IT?: Sometimes the Giver is working from different, hidden, or unconscious outcomes. Why would the ‘offender’ heed the feedback if s/he is meeting her own outcomes? And how can a Giver understand differences between them with a goal or bias that restricts the ability to listen or be flexible enough to go through discovery together?
Are you getting the point here? Feedback is biased; people are all doing the best they can do at any given moment; the only people who will be compliant are those who are already on the same page (and those folks don’t usually need feedback) or those fearful of consequences. And fear is a poor motivator.
WHAT TO DO
Before you offer feedback, consider the distance between what someone is doing/saying vs what you believe should be done/said. Is it merely an opinion they should do something different, or will it actually resolve a problem? Is there a way to mutually discover a solution to accomplish this without causing fear, distrust, and annoyance?
When a problem occurs that needs to be fixed, a collaborative discussion will enable the Receiver to discover their own route to change.
1. Enter the conversation with curiosity:
I noticed X was occurring and find it problematic (for the job, for our relationship, for the outcome). Would you be willing to discuss it with me to figure out if there is actually a problem or there’s another way to look at the situation?
2. Be prepared to drop biases, expectations, needs, and opinions and clearly state intentions. There’s no place in a collaborative communication for any offense:
I find I’m having reactions to what happened, but come with an openness to finding the best route to excellence. If you feel like I’m being biased or disrespectful, I’d like to hear your thoughts so we end up on the same page with the same goal. It’s not my intent to disparage you in any way. I just want to find the best way to both feel comfortable going forward.
3. Tell your side of what you feel about the incident, without further commentary, and clearly state your need for the conversation:
When X happened, it seemed to me your reaction caused [a bigger problem/unexpected fallout, etc.] and it scared me. I wonder if we could discuss both our needs and assumptions and see if there is a path to end up with something we can both live with and neither of us considered.
4. Listen without bias. Make sure you repeat what you think you heard as it’s quite possible your brain might have misinterpreted what was said:
Let me see if I heard you accurately. I heard you say X. Did I get that right? Or am I misunderstanding something? Please correct my interpretation. I want us to be on the same page.
5. Discuss your needs in relation to what you heard, and begin creating a plan:
Sounds like you and I have similar outcomes but different ways of expressing it. That’s what I had the problem with, but now see your choices were just different from mine. What do you think about doing X as a middle path? I think that might meet the goals. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas to suggest?
6. Put it all together:
I think we’ve reached a route that we’ll both benefit from. Is there anything you need from me going forward to make sure we collaborate through to excellence?
I recognize there are times when the Giver is a boss, a parent, a leader needing specific results. But if there’s no collaboration, if there’s bias about right and wrong, if there’s no way to hear each other, neither Giver or Receiver can be the driver toward excellence. Use feedback as a route to excellence.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at email@example.com.