Unless you are both leaving the conversation strengthened, it isn’t feedback.
Word Count: 575
Reading Time: About 1 minute
“Your swearing is offending people. It’s got to stop.”
My boss seems kinda mad. His face is red and he’s spitting a little as he talks. We’ve just gotten out of a meeting where I apparently offended people without noticing, which I find horrifying. I want to make it right.
I get two names and dash off to talk to offendee #1. She has a funny expression on her face as I apologize and blurts: “Liz, what the f— are you talking about?”
Offendee #2 looks perplexed, then says “Oh, sh–! Are you telling me we can’t swear in meetings anymore? “
Two days later, I hear about offendee #3. “You swore in front of Kathy. You probably don’t know that she’s a devout Christian and a church-goer, but she is. I know for a fact that she hates swearing.” Here’s a fact my boss doesn’t know: Kathy and I talk on the phone most evenings and Kathy swears like a sailor. So I tell him. And then I invite him to come clean with me:
“Jerry, none of the people you identified are offended by my language, but I wonder if you are. Is that it? Do you find it offensive? Because that would be enough for me to stop it. You don’t have to make a case against me. Just tell me.”
He couldn’t do it. In fact he, er, swore up and down that it didn’t bother him at all.
The key to effective feedback is admitting you are affected by someone else’s behavior.
Feedback connects people. When it goes well, you both learn something. Giving feedback makes you vulnerable, even when you are the boss.
I think that’s why we avoid it. We either avoid giving any feedback or we do what Jerry did, and armor ourselves with “proof” that what we are saying is “true,” as if there were some objective standard for behavior of which we are the lone guardian.
Which misses the point. Giving feedback isn’t about holding someone to an objective standard of behavior, because there isn’t one. It’s not about fixing someone or remodeling their personality, because they are perfect just as they are.
Feedback is helping someone find a way of being that’s a better fit for their situation.
Feedback knits together a fabric that has become torn and improves everybody in the bargain.
How to give connective feedback:
1. Paint yourself into the picture. Either say how you’re affected, or how you’ve contribution to the problem. It’s always true, and it will open your heart.
2. Watch out for the shame and manipulation of the “royal we.” It’s common to want to sound more powerful, just like the Wizard of Oz. You don’t need to be perfect or to be right or to be joined by a group of imaginary friends. Just be you.
3. Invite the person receiving feedback to paint themselves more fully into the picture. Feedback first connects a person to themselves. This will make them your partner.
4. Remember that there is no such thing as abnormal behavior, there is only situation-inappropriate or age-inappropriate behavior. Every behavior has its appropriate situation or chronological age. This will help you let go of judgment.
5. Say clearly what is appropriate behavior for the situation.
6. Listen for ways to help them connect and align themselves and for ways you can stretch your perceptions.
I still wonder what would have happened if Jerry’s feedback could have been connective rather than corrective.