Saturday, March 24, 2007

Commenting on ideas

I had this email exchange with a friend, and since it's related to change I thought I'd share it (plus it means I don't have to write a separate blog entry!).


We have discussed giving feedback before and that when you start to
give it your automatically
at odds with the person receiving it.

For example, they present a shape that is a triangle and you
believe a square is better, so
suggesting a different shape automatically suggests that they are
incorrect and those that
also have supported the triangle or have not suggested another
shape are also somehow
incorrect. At least this is how I remember you explaining it to me.

Given that your at odds with the person receiving the feedback, is
there any way to give it
in such a way as to lessen the possibility of it being taken

I could try the feedback sandwich approach but do you have any
others that you use with
success ?

If you think the feedback will not make a difference do you suggest
keeping quiet, even if
you think your expected to speak up ?

My reply:

Feedback is incredibly difficult, and success or failure can depend
as much on tone and body language as the words used.

First, you need to accept that they may be right and you may be
wrong. I guarantee that whether you accept this or not will come
across somehow. I've used to ask leading questions, until someone
pulled me up on it, and I now I try to make sure that words and
thoughts are a bit better aligned - questions when I'm in doubt,
statements when I'm not.

Maybe the first thing you need to do is better understand why they
used a triangle - "I thought of something different - can you tell
me why you used a triangle?". When you can echo back to the other
person why they used a triangle, and they nod or agree throughout,
then you're on a good track. Then rather than just say "a square is
better", maybe you can say "ok, I understand why you used a triangle,
but I'm concerned about these things as well, and I think that a
square addresses those concerns".

It's quite possible that neither the square or the triangle address
all the concerns - that you've each uncovered some overlapping issues
and some unique issues. Or you've uncovered the same issues, but have
given them different priorities. There may not be right and wrong
solutions, or even outright better or worse.

Although I don't always speak up myself, I don't think it's healthy
to stay quiet when you're asked for feedback, if you have feedback
related to the matter on hand, not general feedback like "I think
you're an idiot"! The times I stay quiet are when I don't think I can
present the feedback appropriately, perhaps because I don't have the
verbal skills, or perhaps because I'm agitated by something at the
time. I certainly need to get better at this myself (this is a case
of do as I say, not do as I do). Try not to offend people, but the
decision about whether the feedback will make a difference doesn't
really belong to you.

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