Feedback Traps

Last week I did a feedback workshop at the AYE conference. I do this workshop from time to time, and while each workshop is unique, and there are consistent patterns.

As I walk around the room and listen to people practice giving feedback, there’s always at least one person all tangled up with subjective measures.

Some examples:

1. Talking to a co-worker who has a suggestive cartoon pinned up to his cube wall: “It’s not professional.”

The dictionary defines professional as “Conforming to the standards of a profession…” Most of us have different ideas about what this means in practice, and my idea of professional probably doesn’t match yours. Unless there’s a written code this one invites rebuttal.

2. Talking to a co-worker who listens to his voice mail messages on speaker phone (and is broadcasting personal and intimate messages from his new girlfriend): “Any reasonable person in a shared workspace would pick up the handset.”

This implies that the other person is currently not “a reasonable person.” Most people believe they are reasonable, so you’re likely to get an argument, not a problem-solving discussion or a change.

3. Talking to a co-worker who wears revealing clothing: “It’s not appropriate.”

Another subjective assessment that invites rebuttal.

Feedback is effective when it’s descriptive and informational – not vague and not evaluative.

When you give feedback,

Start by creating an opening. This can be as simple as “I’d like to talk to you about something.”

Describe the behavior or result – without using labels, or evaluations.

State the impact using “I” language. No one can argue you out of what you feel.

Make a request. Depending on the situation, you may ask for something to stop, continue, or change. You may ask to work on solving the issue together.