Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 14;   April 2, 2003: Feedback Fumbles

Feedback Fumbles

by

"Would you like some feedback on that?" Uh-oh, you think, absolutely not. But if you're like many of us, your response is something like, "Sure, I'd be very interested in your thoughts." Why is giving and receiving feedback so difficult?

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.

Feedback"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
offer feedback,
ask yourself why
It'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.

These are the basics. If you're thinking of sending me some feedback, ask yourself first: "In what way (if any) is this feedback about me?" Then send it. Go to top Top  Next issue: Conflict Haiku  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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.

Communication Gaps and How to Close ThemN. Karten, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them. New York: Dorset House, 2002. More. Order from Amazon.com

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:

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When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
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Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable responses.
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Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter.

See also Emotions at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingComing February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
Stained Glass of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England, United KingdomAnd on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.

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