Feedback Fails With Judgement
June 16, 2015
I witnessed a painful coaching session this week. A manager had asked me to be in the room with them as they gave a member of their team some constructive feedback. It seemed like a simple and straight forward request. It also meant I could avoid a budget meeting so I didn't hesitate to say yes. I sat unassumingly, and a little disengaged, on the manager's couch as he began to speak with his employee. It took just three quick sentences before the room was charged with emotion. I was completely blindsided by what had happened. The employee's face was red with rage, their arms flailing around in anger. The manager had, in response, leapt to his feet in an awkward attempt to assert his dominance. Their raised voices boomed loudly causing an echo that rippled down the hall for everyone to hear. Suddenly, that budget meeting didn't look so bad!
What had the manager said that caused this situation to explode with emotion? It had nothing to do with the content he was attempting to share; the employee wasn't getting fired or being told some devastating news. In fact, the manager had every right to be drawing the employee's attention to the area of concern. The content shouldn't have caused this kind of nuclear meltdown. So, if it wasn't the content, what was it? Thinking about it after things had calmed down, I realized what the manager had said that had changed the way their message was heard.
"You aren't as committed to your work as you used to be and you are making lots of mistakes."
Uh-oh! That statement was dripping in judgment. Show me one person who likes being judged? Didn't think so.
Making a judgement about someone else serves only to trigger an emotional response. "Excuse me! How dare you tell me I am not as committed to my work as I once was? Who the hell do you think you are?" You, as the manager, may be right in your observation but you can't deliver the message from a place of judgment without causing the other person to have a defensive response. Unfortunately, once the other person has moved into an emotional state your message is likely to go unheard until the emotion is dealt with. Sometimes, that is easier said than done.
For feedback to be heard it needs to free of judgment and opinion.
Next time you are giving feedback make sure it comes from the "I" place. Never the "you" place. A "you" statement is nothing more than judgment; your judgment or opinion about the other persons work. It is not your place to be judgmental. Your role is to increase the other person's awareness by sharing the observations you have made. When the feedback comes from the "I" place it is fact. "I feel like you aren't as engaged with your work recently…" Facts aren't emotional. When feedback comes from the "I" place it is factual to you….
- "I can see" -- this is you making an observation
- "I feel" -- this is you telling someone what you're feeling
- "I would prefer" -- this is you explaining what you want
- "I would like" -- this is you explaining the next steps
If you want your message to be heard, the language you choose to use during the delivery is crucial. Your language choice will help to keep emotion out of the conversation so you can focus on the content. The only way to do this is to use the word "I" and frame the feedback from your perspective. Well, that's what I believe!