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:
- The Triangulation Zone
- When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension
— a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation
- Why Dogs Wag Their Tails
- If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to
guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult
to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
- When You Can't Even Think About It
- Some problems are so difficult or scary that we can't even think about how to face them. Until we can
think, action is not a good idea. How can we engage our brains for the really scary problems?
- Handling Heat: I
- Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of
the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is
everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?
- Quips That Work at Work: I
- Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered,
does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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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