That rarely happens, sometimes when I give feedback I don’t get thanked, I get a blank stare or a mutter of defence. Then I am very sorry I took the risk of saying anything at all and keep quiet the next time. Feedback comes with negative connotations, such as rejection, loss of status, fear of failure….. It’s a pity that our experiences of feedback are so negative for many reasons and especially at work because we know that to receive fair, non-judgemental feedback based on evidence, is a unique event, in fact a gift, which we should try to welcome and encourage in our lives. Seeing ourselves as others see is, can, if graciously experienced, be the path to wisdom, self-awareness and understanding. And who would not want those for ourselves, yes please I say. Feedback can lead directly to improvement and growth, in ourselves, in our relationships and in doing our work.
So… how to do it? In all the years I have worked in HR and Training, I have been looking for the right process and along the way have wondered is there even a process out there that will help or am I approaching it all from the wrong direction in the first place. After all, when it comes down to it, feedback is about communication and understanding: it’s about the experience and how we feel. Not easy at all. Then I discovered NVC ( non-violent communication), given to me by a colleague in the UK , Dorothy Nesbitt, a kind and generous Mentor. Dorothy introduced me to the idea of non-violent communication and at first I was a bit, well more than a bit, sceptical. Will this wash with busy operational managers who are juggling so many projects, people and meetings day-in and day-out looking for quick fixes to their people problems: how to manage ‘difficult’ situations is a classic request and how to improve performance, another one.
The process for giving and receiving feedback successfully so that it is accepted and understood, is taken from studies and training using NVC with the very simple but extremely powerful concept of putting understanding at the heart of communication. Well I was always a huge fan of Stephen Covey and his mantra: ‘seek to understand, not to be understood’, so I took to the NVC ideas fairly quickly and started to integrate them into coaching and training with, I have to say, a lot of success across a very broad spectrum of people including managers and leaders. The process has four simple components:
- The concrete actions we observe
- How we are feeling in relation to what we are observing
- The needs, values, desires….behind our feelings
- The concrete actions we request to happen
When we use this process in communication we are focused, attentive, actively listening to the last word, asking questions for clarification, reflecting back to check understanding and most of all, we are proactively seeking to understand. Like all good things in life, its simplicity is its strength but as a skill it takes time to learn and effort to implement but what rewards it will bring you and your work. Why not try it out in a safe situation at home and learn how to use it fluently before extending it to other situations, for example:
Observe: what is actually happening in the situation: what are you observing others saying or doing that is affecting you? You need to be able to articulate this observation without any hint of judgment or evaluation whatsoever: to simply say what people are doing that you either like or don’t like. This is not easy, as your emotions may be high and your feelings about the situation strong. You need to try very hard to separate your emotions from the observation in order to gain clarity. You will need to leave your judgement, evaluation and position ‘go’ in order to observe the truth. For example:
John (14 year old son), each Wednesday and Friday this month you have left your sports bag in the hall for everyone to fall over as they come in the door. Then it sits there until the next time you need it full of dirty boots and sports gear which are unuseable and so panic ensues and you are late for training.
Next, state how you feel when you observe this situation: what are your feelings.
John, this makes me feel disappointed and frustrated when I see the bag left there time and time again.
Thirdly, state what needs of yours are connected to the feelings you have identified.
I am disappointed and frustrated because I need you to understand that being part of the family means pulling your weight and making family life easier by doing so. I need to see you having respect for your own belongings and taking responsibility for your sports gear.
Finally, make a very specific request, which is very clear and forthcoming
Starting tomorrow, Friday and for every Wednesday and Friday from now on, empty your sports bag, clean your boots, put away the dirty sports-wear to be washed and bring your sports bag up to your bedroom every time you come in the door.
I’ve come to realise that the simplest ways are the best as a lot of the time quite difficult situations can be approached in a very simple way. There’s just that one crucial obstacle in the way: our emotions and holding on tight to what we think is right, our views and opinions. If we are able to leave these go, understanding has a chance to flow back and forth, and it’s truly amazing what results can be achieved. I’m waiting to see the empty sports bag float its way up the stairs and you know, most of the time it does. Does he thank me for the feedback, well that’s one step too far for a 14 year old, but you know I think he might do so when he’s older (hopefully!). It’s the joy of parenthood, oh and by the way, Happy Mother’s Day!
Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business. Anne Marie is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.