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:
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- For many of us, taking a vacation can be a burden. We ask ourselves, "How can I get away now?"
And sometimes we have the answer: "I can't." How can we feel relaxed about taking time off?
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- In troubled economic times, layoffs loom almost everywhere. Here are some tips for reconfiguring your
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- 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?
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- Quips That Work at Work: II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using
humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where
thinking can resume.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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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