Being able to give and receive feedback creates a huge opportunity for us, and yet for many people even the term “feedback” is loaded with negativity. Lets see if we can find some better ideas and words to help us with this important skill.
Psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication (or NVC) proposed that when we communicate, we are really only saying one of two things: “Thank you” or “Please”. In other words we are either expressing gratitude or making a request. How could this idea help us with giving feedback?
“All people ever say is THANK YOU (a celebration of life) and PLEASE (an opportunity to make life more wonderful)” Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD.
Thinking of “positive feedback” as giving thanks and “negative feedback” as a request to behave in a different way, gives feedback new meaning and opens up a new vocabulary. A compassionate request providing an actionable alternative way of being has the potential to be far more valuable to someone than simply pointing out their limitations!
Say Thank You often
Expressing appreciation isn’t difficult. It is just a case of being clear about what it is someone is doing and why this is helpful. Here is one simple way of achieving this:
Developing a sense of gratitude is good for us, mentally and even physically. Sharing appreciations publicly not only celebrates our colleagues. It encourages others to do likewise and helps to create an open feedback culture within the team.
Asking someone to behave differently takes more care, however it needn’t be that difficult either. NVC gives us a more positive way to frame our requests that is more likely to receive a compassionate response from the recipient. Consider the following example expressed in a form inspired by the NVC request:
Lets examine the request a little more closely by breaking down each part:
I am noticing…
Jane identifies her teammate’s behaviour i.e. interrupting Pauline and Sunil and gives examples of when this occurs e.g. in their planning and design meetings. These observations are expressed in a way that is without judgement or diagnosis, while the examples provide clarity.
Starting with observations of just what the person is saying and doing is important. Often we form an opinion of someone, but when we try to identify the actual behaviours that led us to this diagnosis, they prove elusive. If you find you are struggling to identify the person’s behaviours i.e. just what they are saying and doing, then maybe you need to wait, observe more closely and reevaluate the basis for your request.
The greatest benefit comes from identifying repeated behaviours that are having the most significant and detrimental impact on the individual and or the team.
This makes me feel…
In the example, Jane is feeling frustrated and anxious because her need for respect and equality for others isn’t being met by her teammate’s behaviour. In this situation, by expressing her emotions and her underlying unmet need, she is more likely to elicit a compassionate response from the recipient. This inventory of feelings shows the full range of emotions that we may experience. Thankfully in professional situations the range is more limited making them easier to identify and express.
The ability to identify and communicate our feelings and emotions is an important life skill. Our feelings point us to the unmet need that is driving them. This knowledge gives us an opportunity to find strategies for getting our needs met that are not in conflict with other people’s strategies for meeting their own needs.
A common misinterpretation is to say something like “This makes me feel… like you do not care about the work“. Note that this isn’t expressing an emotion. It is actually making a judgement about what you think the other person is thinking! If you find yourself doing this, reflect for a moment on the emotions you are feeling, not what you are thinking. This will help you to identify the need that is not being met by the recipient’s behaviours. Just as with feelings, humans have share many needs. Here is an inventory of needs that may help you identify your own in a particular situation.
From now on, it would really help…
Finally, Jane asks her teammate if they would let Pauline and Sunil explain their ideas fully their design meetings. This would meet her need for respect and equality. The request is expressed as something the recipient can actually do, as opposed to asking someone not to do something. This is clearer for the recipient and reduces the possibility that the request will be met with a defensive reaction.
Equipping ourselves with the tools to be able to give feedback is the first step. The form described above is inspired by the NVC process. Another approach similar to NVC, is the Feedback Wrap from Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0.
Whichever you prefer, both help us to say the things that need to be said. As long as we say it from the heart, with good intention towards the recipient and the team, we won’t go far wrong.
I’ll leave you with Dr Rosenberg talking at an NVC workshop…
The examples shown above are taken from TeamSense, a fairer way for team members to exchange frequent meaningful feedback.