Recently my girlfriend gave me feedback on my writing, and it didn't go well. Just about everything that we knew about what to do, or not do when giving feedback went wrong, and I felt personally attacked. Funny thing is that we are both trained and experienced in giving and receiving feedback.
But it went wrong anyway.
Only days before, she recounted how she took critical feedback personally, so it's clear we forget to practice what we know.
Many things can go wrong when giving feedback e.g the giver is too rough and ignores what's working, or too nice and ignores what's not. But the biggest thing that can go wrong with feedback is having it land on the person and not on her work.
That's what happened with me and my girlfriend. I felt that I, not my work, was the focus of her feedback which expressed her deep disappointment in me. I took it personally, (even though I've written about why not to). Instead of feeling encouraged to fly, I felt I could never soar like an eagle because I was flapping little penguin wings.
Perhaps where we both went wrong was forgetting that every human relationship is laden with emotional landmines, and regardless of how strong a relationship, a careless or casual remark, can trip one off. The remark brings up something from a person's past—a relationship with a demanding parent, or being unfairly criticized and laughed at when they were seven.
Always approach any form of evaluation, performance appraisal, or acknowledgment with care for not setting off an emotional landmine.
A good place to start is to unlearn the meaning of the word "confront."
The word confront connotes hostility, argument, opposition. We approach most feedback as a confrontation and we think we'll either come out winning or losing.
In "Difficult Conversations" Stone and Patton offered a different way of thinking about confrontation based on the original meaning of the word confront: to stand with (the person receiving the feedback), in front of (their work: the thing being evaluated). I teach this as —
Think of someone you need to give some important feedback to. Picture you and that person as two points of a triangle facing the third, the article, report, sculpture, video of
In the normal feedback formation, the giver and receiver face each other with the work in the middle. Often though, the person receiving the feedback places herself in the middle to defend her work from the criticism. She tries to protect her work because, for her, her work IS HER.
Feedback-triangulation as I call it doesn't inoculate the receiver from hurt and defensiveness, but it does reduce the chances of this happening. Why? Because the triangular formation helps
Can a simple physical orientation make such a difference? It can, but it's actually more a mental orientation. The physical orientation is more like training wheels when learning to ride. With time and practice, and an ability to share when feedback is landing personally, both giver and receiver won't need the physical orientation because they get something key to effective feedback:
Once the person receiving feedback gets that the person giving the feedback is on their side, almost anything can be said without anyone taking it personally.
But sometimes we forget we're on the same side, as I did when I listened to my girlfriend's very valid comments. We got it straight
Might not work with your direct reports though.
So first establish you're on their side before giving feedback to anyone you care
It's not about the person.
Trust they will incorporate the feedback into their next attempt, and their tiny penguin flippers will grow into eagle wings, or they'll figure out those little fellas are for rocketing through water, not air.
This article was first published on The Practice of Your Life