Our language is like that box of chocolate of Forrest Gump’s mom. Our language can be a wonderland of wisdom. Our language can be a miracle of emotions. Our language can be a blizzard of bullying.
Do you remember those bullies at school? Weren’t they sweet little fellows? Wasn’t their jargon filled with manners and courtesy and love? Of course, not. Their language was filled with anger and rage and hatred. Positive feedback? No way. And yet, those bullies seem to have been good teachers in our lives. When it comes to giving feedback today, are we any better than those morons back then?
We prefer to give negative feedback. That’s what I’ve experienced over the last five years as a trainer. Without conditioning we tend to turn into bullies ourselves. The irony is that – when we give feedback – we don’t perceive it as negative feedback ourselves.
Here are three examples of negative feedback we give on a daily basis. I call them the three fierce fellows of feedback.
The DIDN’T LIKE fellow
Imagine… a random team meeting at your company. All participants are bored to death after two and a half hours of deadly tiring monologues. Your colleague X confronts you and says, I didn’t like what you said about our customers in region Y. I think we should bla bla bla.
Don’t you love to hear feedback that discredits you and your opinion right from the start? The didn’t like fellow is the most obvious one of this triumvirate. It’s minus feedback with a bully-bold minus.
Whenever in my seminars someone starts a sentence with I didn’t like…, I interrupt the feedback giver and correct him or her. You want to say, ‘I would’ve liked it more if…’
Turn that fierce fellow of feedback didn’t like into a constructive companion would’ve liked it more.
The MISSING fellow
Less obvious, but still bully-style – the missing fellow. This is a pattern, which pops up a lot in my trainings.
Typical situation. Someone has given a speech. A speech that clearly lacked structure. The speaker jumped around; he built a maze of thoughts where no one in the audience could find the exit. That speech, indeed, needed more structure. The feedback round is open. First, the positive aspects. Good. Second, aspects to improve. It takes seconds only until the first one shoots. What was missing in this speech is structure…
Does this feedback help the speaker? Does it support the speaker? No, it highlights the mistake. It’s bully feedback.
Whenever in my seminars someone starts a sentence with What was missing is…, I interrupt the feedback giver and correct him or her. You want to say, ‘What you could have added is…’ Or, ‘You could’ve used more structure…’
Turn that fierce fellow of feedback missing into a constructive companion could’ve added.
The TOO fellow
The most hidden fellow is also hideous – the too fellow.
Picture this situation. You’re an advisor of a multinational bank. The bank wants to sell one of its entities in overseas. Your job is to valuate the entity. You’re having a meeting with the CFO of that subsidiary. When it comes to the position of future sales, you say, In my opinion your planning is too optimistic.
Direct confrontation. Defensive answer. Blocked conversation. This is the power of that tiny, three-letter word too.
Again, like in the other two examples above, with the word too we highlight the mistake of someone rather than offering a solution. You’re too late. This presentation is too long. Your report is too short. Does it sound familiar? And… how do you feel when you hear it?
As a receiver of feedback I learned that I’d never accept the word too. What I’ll always accept is more or less.
In the example above, what you could say instead is, In my opinion your planning could be less optimistic. Or you say, In my opinion your planning could be more realistic. More and less seek a solution. They are constructive approaches. Too only shows that the other person is wrong and you are right.
Whenever in my seminars someone uses the word too, e.g. You speak too fast, I interrupt the feedback giver and correct him or her. You want to say, ‘You could speak slower, so I can follow you better’.
Turn that fierce fellow of feedback too into the constructive companions more and less.
It’s your choice
Whether it’s didn’t like, missing or too – all these three fierce fellows of feedback have in common that they highlight the mistake of someone instead of offering a constructive solution. You are right and they are wrong. It’s bully feedback.
When you give feedback in life it’s up to you which piece of chocolate you choose from that box of Forrest Gump’s mom. If I were you, I’d only go for wonderlands of wisdom and miracles of emotions.