As she was about to click Send, Helen heard a knock on her doorframe. She finished the click, looked up and saw Sean, her boss, entering her office. He closed the door and sat.
"Got a few minutes? I have some feedback for you about the meeting just now."
It wasn't a question. Helen pushed back from her desk, turned toward Sean, and crossed her left knee over her right. "Sure. What's up?"
"Actually not the meeting, but what happened between you and Chris."
"Ah, you noticed. I'm sure it'll pass," Helen said. Helen and Chris had been having problems lately, but Helen felt that just about everyone and Chris had been having problems. Chris had been under a lot of pressure, and Helen was willing to make allowances until Marigold shipped.
"Maybe so, but we need it to pass now. Tell me how you plan to straighten this out."
If you want to
ask yourself whyIt's hard to know what Sean is actually thinking, but he could be headed for trouble here. When we offer unsolicited feedback, we risk creating such discomfort for the recipient that the goal of the feedback is at risk. And when we receive unsolicited feedback, we sometimes react so strongly that we can't get much of value from the exercise. It all gets a little easier, though, if we keep a few things in mind.
- Maybe you solicited the feedback
- Sometimes we feel obliged to ask for feedback, but we really don't want it. Our reactions to this feedback are indistinguishable from our reactions to unsolicited feedback. When you notice your reactions, verify whether you've asked for the feedback. Ask for it only if you're prepared to receive it.
- Feedback is often about the giver
- If you want to offer feedback, ask yourself why — in what way (if any) is the feedback about yourself? When you receive unsolicited feedback, it helps to realize that the giver is revealing something personal, though exactly what it is might not be clear. In the example above, Sean might be more uncomfortable about Marigold and its reflection on his performance than he is concerned about the interaction between Helen and Chris.
- If it's not about the giver, it still might not be about you
- Feedback might be directed at you, but it might not be about you. For instance, if you're working in a very inefficient office, and customers regularly become irate, your own performance is most likely not the problem, even though the customers show anger to you.
- Ask permission
- If you've examined your motives, and you still want to offer unsolicited feedback, ask your intended recipient for permission. Follow through only with permission.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
For more about feedback, see "Feedback Fumbles," Point Lookout for April 2, 2003.
You can read a lot more about feedback in two wonderful works.
C.N. Seashore, E.W. Seashore, and G.M. Weinberg, What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback. Columbia, MD: Bingham House, 1996. Order from Amazon.com
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- When It Really Counts, Be Positive
- When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one.
We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal
meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
- If You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You
- Diversity of perspectives is one of the great strengths of teams. Ideas contend and through contending
they improve each other. In this process, criticism of ideas sometimes gets personal. How can we critique
ideas safely, without hurting each other, while keeping focused on the work?
- The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
- The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility
in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
- A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
- Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided.
Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
- When Somebody Throws a Nutty
- To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal
over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end
of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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