How to Deliver Feedback (not Criticism)
In my “day job”, I am a mid-level group manager for a technology company in Southern California. I have a staff of nine highly educated people – all with various bachelors and/or masters degrees in electrical engineering. I’ve been a manager of one sort or another for the past nine years … and in those nine years, I’ve had all types of personalities and levels of competency work underneath me. Some employees were quite good in some ways, but had tragic flaws that prevented or inhibited their success. As a manager, I’ve had to give some people good performance reviews, and other people bad reviews. What I think I’ve learned from giving the poor-performer reviews is how to deliver criticism in the form of feedback – so that the desired outcome is positive, and not negative. The goal is to change a person’s behavior – and to do so in way that is constructive.
In a work environment, when I need to change a particular behavior by delivering criticism in the form of feedback, what I typically do is talk to the person one-on-one in a distraction-free environment. [No cell phone, no Blackberry, no other people around, etc.] I’m pretty direct in announcing the subject of the discussion, but I don’t make it sound like a bashing. And after announcing the subject, I start off by talking about related things that the person does really well. In other words, I make sure the employee knows that I value them as a member of the team, and why I value them … what they do well, etc. Then when it is time to deliver the feedback I have in mind, I typically phrase it in the form of a leading question … so that the answer the employee gives me contains the desired feedback. And if (for whatever reason) they don’t “get” what I’m trying to lead them toward, then I’ll usually explain it myself by framing it as how the person can maybe obtain a better or more optimal result.
Professional Example of Feedback Delivery
Here is a work-related example. I had an employee who was in charge of a relationship with a key customer of ours. During meetings with this (and other customers), if this employee was not talking, he would tend to look off in different directions, and appear to not be paying attention to what the customer was saying. He would often be fidgety … like clicking a pen, or twirling it. This is gross – but sometimes he would play with pimples that formed on the side of his forehead … pinching them during the meetings, and then looking at his fingertips after having pinched the pimple(s). What I told the guy during our very first “feedback session” was that he was very sharp technically, and a gifted public speaker – but sometimes even in a technical field, we have to be cognizant of everything we are doing, and how others perceive us. I asked him if he would be more impressed with someone who always has direct eye contact with him, and who appears to be listening and tuned-in to an entire dialog. And he said “sure”. A fairly careful dialog then ensued where I explained that he should consider thinking about everything he is doing when in a meeting … and reminding him that he is not simply delivering some technical information, but also representing the company we work for. Did this criticism in the form of feedback work? Well – I succeeded in delivering the message to him that first time in a positive and constructive way. But ultimately he never could change his habits, and I wound up forcing him out. Sometimes you cannot change people. ;o)
Can Feedback (Not Criticism) Be Successfully Delivered in a Relationship?
Okay – so if we apply the feedback delivery mechanism I learned at work to relationships – does that work? MAYBE. If we go back to my earlier example when my old girlfriend Debi asked me if there was anything I didn’t like about her … what I would probably have done differently was either said “No, Sugar – you are perfect” … or if I really felt compelled to give her some feedback, then what I probably should have said was something like,
“I really love and adore you … you are so intelligent,
and charming, and I love us in bed together. Do
you think that sometimes when we are together
that we might occasionally drink too much?”
Now I don’t know for sure – but I’m willing to bet that if I had phrased things that way, that the outcome would have been much different than what really happened. I framed the key item of feedback/leading question around “us” versus “her” … and I didn’t tell her that she was annoying, loud, and obnoxious (all of which are fairly hateful words). Now if she had come back and asked why I might think that maybe we drink too much at times, then I probably would have elaborated by saying something like “Sometimes I think we might get a little too loud or gregarious at times” … which itemizes the annoying behavior, but again frames it around both of us (when in reality I mean HER not ME). Who knows if this approach would work or not? It might be a fun experiment to try sometime. I certainly don’t focus on doing things this way with my current girlfriend – but she is not really such pain in the ass as some of my previous girlfriends (as I am usually the one in the doghouse, not her). For fun – you can also read about things I’ve said fairly recently that have gotten me in the doghouse – see the article entitled Instant Doghouse. Continued on next page >>>