Most of the feedback we give and receive puts people on the defensive. We don’t do this intentionally. It just happens. We say how we feel, usually when we’re upset, and the other person responds.
Most of the feedback we give and receive is judgy, like the examples below.
Judgy – Not Real Feedback
Just the Facts – Actual Feedback
|“You ignore me in meetings.”||“When I raise my hand to participate in meetings, you don’t call on me.”|
|“You’re rude to me.”||“When you pass me in the hallway, you don’t say hello.”|
|“You won’t work with me. You go around me.”||“We were supposed to screen potential vendors together. You scheduled and held the appointments without me.”|
|“You’re not responsive.”||“You usually reply to emails a week after they were sent.”|
|“It’s hard to get time on your calendar.”||“It takes three weeks to schedule time to meet with you.”|
Becoming defensive when receiving feedback is a hard-wired response, like slamming on your brakes when the car in front of your does the same. The more people feel judged, the more defensive they become. If you want to be sure people become defensive when you give feedback, be vague. If you want people to be able to hear you and take action on your feedback, strip out the opinion (judgment) and give people just the facts.
Referring to the chart above, the sentences on the left are opinions. And opinions can be debated. The sentences on the right are facts. Facts are harder to debate. When giving feedback give just the facts, not your opinion. This will take practice.
The first thing out of our mouths will invariably be judgment/opinion. People who have participated in feedback training with me or who have read How to Say Anything to Anyone know I call the tendency to be vague Cap’n Crunch. Cap’n Crunch: “You’re doing a good job.” That’s sweet but useless.
When someone upsets you and you want to tell the person, prepare for the conversation by asking yourself these questions:
- What did the person do that frustrated me?
- What behaviors did s/he exhibit?
- What actions did s/he take?
- What was the impact on me?
Then practice giving feedback to someone outside of your workplace or group of friends (to reduce gossip and drama) and ask the person with whom you’re practicing what s/he heard. If your feedback is specific and clear, any lay person will interpret the feedback as you intended it.
Giving feedback, that others can hear, isn’t easy to do. It requires you to put your emotions aside, strip out judgments and opinions, and tell the other person the facts of what happened. The more you focus on the facts and less on how you feel about what happened, the better your conversations and relationships will go.