There are only a few phrases that send shivers up peoples spines. “We need to talk...” “Can I give you feedback?” “Anyone want the last slice of pizza?”. All of these can trigger all sorts of anxiety and emotions. My goal throughout this post is to help you with at least two of them (you’re on your own with pizza).
I’m going to separate this into two categories: Giving/Receiving Feedback in a Professional Setting, and Resolving Conflict In Your Personal Life. You’re going to see a lot of parallels between them, it’s just how the message is delivered is where they differ.
Giving / Receiving Feedback in a Professional Setting
Having to say this phrase at work is awful. Truly, truly awful. I’m about to tie your brain in knots though; Stop saying it, but keep giving feedback. I know, they seem counter intuitive to each other, but trust me your life is about to change. Although the idea of feedback isn’t intended as a negative thing, we’ve associated the word with bad news. The only reason this is the case is that most people are just terrible at delivering feedback. It’s become synonymous with “Here’s all the things you did wrong”, when in fact it can be used for either good or bad! Or even both if it applies!
Let’s start with a weird concept. Let’s start removing the phrase “Can I give you some feedback” from your vocabulary. It strikes fear into people, it makes them defensive, it makes them anxious. But, if I don’t say I’m gonna give them feedback HoW wILl tHEy kNoW?! Easy! You’re just going to give the feedback without a setup. I know this seems wild and like it could be a surprise or abrupt attack, but let’s talk about the finesse of it.
When delivering feedback there is a formula to ensure our recipient doesn’t feel attacked. We are going to say what we want to talk about and why, also (and this is the REALLY important one) we are going to assume positive intent.
Starting a feedback session off with what you want to talk about and why is how we avoid setting anxiety in. An example of this would be “Hey Karen, I didn’t see any paprika in your potato salad and I’m concerned it may not have enough flavor.” If we break down this phrase we can see that it IS delivering feedback on Karen’s potentially bland potato salad. We noticed something, a “behavior”, and we acknowledged a potential concern, an “impact”. After all, feedback is just addressing Behaviors and Impacts. Where most people falter is they go one step further. “Hey Karen, I didn’t see any paprika in your potato salad and I’m concerned it may not have enough flavor. You should add some next time”. This is a big red flag. Now Karen is going to be on the defensive. Maybe she doesn’t like paprika? Maybe she’s allergic to it? Maybe there is some in there but she already stirred it in making it not visual? You don’t know all the facts, so don’t assume otherwise. This is the assuming positive intent aspect.
Notice we didn’t offer a solution? People are smart (mostly). Once you acknowledge a behavior and a potential impact they can infer a solution all on their own. If they can’t, they will ask for one. To make this more practical, because sometimes we get busy and can’t discuss our recipes in great detail, we can add the phrase “do you have a second to chat about it?’ at the tail end. This gives the person a reasonable and polite reason to postpone the conversation out of convenience or a way for them to address the concern without making a full conversation about it. This also gives the opportunity for them to offer up facts or insight that was beyond what you witnessed. Our perception is 100% our reality, but that does not mean it is fact. If I look at a box I can’t determine its weight without knowing what’s inside. I need to know all the facts.
Acknowledging behavior and impact writes itself like a kids book.
Behavior: Something I saw/heard FIRST HAND
Impact: Direct correlation from said behavior
The first hand aspect is also key. When delivering feedback you want to have been the person to have witnessed the behavior. Otherwise you’re just acknowledging a rumor as fact and that’s a perfect way to ruin a working relationship and lose respect.
Resolving Conflict in your Personal Life
Now that you’ve learned the formula, we can apply it to significant others and friends. Which, arguably, is even harder. hurting our friends feelings or starting a fight with a s/o is awful. This method aims to help avoid that. We are going to use the same behavior/impact/positive intent model as before. Let’s use this meme as an example. “Hey Jim, I noticed you turned your head to look at that girl, I’m concerned that people will think you are checking her out while with me”. The one thing I want you to take note of in both this example and the one from before. The absence of feelings. Whereas both scenarios might give you a certain emotion, the acknowledging of the behavior does not require emotion. Emotions are personal, they are completely based on the individual. What I feel for something might be completely different from someone else. Where you might be mad that Karen didn’t season her potato salad, I might be sad because I really love potato salad.
Now, that being said, we shouldn’t disregard emotions. Emotions might be an impact as well. So, where you might acknowledge that a behavior caused an emotion, you deliver the feedback without emotion guiding it. If I yell at Karen about her potato salad or if I have an angry face, regardless of my words she will 100% respond negatively to my tone. With a relationship emotions are the guiding factor of how we act to each other. If your s/o uses a stern or nagging tone asking you to do something (i.e. take out the trash, do the laundry, stop bringing the Nintendo Switch into the bathroom to poop) you might respond negatively. But, if there tone is neutral and they simply apply a behavior/impact formula you’re probably more apt to acknowledge the concern and see their side, or address your reasoning behind it and justify it. An example of this would be “Hey Jim, I noticed you turned your head to look at that girl, it seemed like you were checking her out and that didn’t make me feel special to you anymore.”
The general hope is that Jim had a perfectly logical explanation for looking at this woman. Former colleague? She had poop on her shoe? She was carrying a severed head? Or maybe Jim is just a twat. We need to know the facts!
When should you deliver feedback? Immediately. As soon as reasonably possible. Obviously not in the middle of the persons presentation, but immediately after. This makes everything fresh in their mind and they are able to remember their thought process behind making the behavior.
Switching to this method is going to take time. not getting emotional is hard. Our natural instinct is to be emotional and not logical. Unless you are a Vulcan, in which case you already know this, so why are you reading this?
Now, venture forward and make the world a better place!