Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

Feedback to difficult people

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

In my experience most people are poor at giving good feedback.  Usually they don’t realise there is a way to do it properly and their so called ‘feedback’ often does not come from a neutral place within the ‘giver’.  If you are feeling annoyed or let down by the person, it is likely this will come through in your message.  It is basic human nature that when we feel attacked, we either run away and avoid the message, or attack the messenger.  It is even more difficult when we need to give an unwelcome message to someone who we know is likely to respond poorly.

There is a special technique for doing this, and there is a useful article in the HBR on this.

The key is firstly to be very clear what you need to communicate to them.  This may well be different to what you would like to say to them!  So first of all make sure you have a clean, emotionally neutral message, stripped of any blaming.  Own your emotions and reactions to the other person.  Ensure that where possible your message is evidence-based and you can give real examples of their behaviours and the results thereof.  You need to describe what they do, contrast it with what you would like them to do and describe the benefits following the recommended change. There is a guide here.

It is natural to feel defensive when entering what you feel is a lion’s den, and this can change how you deliver your message.  You need to ensure there is no emotional ‘leakage’ in your manner.  You need to maintain a neutral manner, in much the same way as a newsreader would deliver it.  This helps the other person to hear it and not react defensively. 

You also need to ensure that you use temperate language than doesn’t either carry a sub-text or appear to do so.  All of the above makes it more likely that the person will and can respond positively.  Remember the SARA model of how people respond to feedback or bad news (Shock, Anger, Rejection, then Acceptance.)  You have to allow the person to travel this journey and help them through it.

If you approach this correctly, it isn’t about you being right and them being wrong; it should be about finding a way in which you can work together more effectively.  If you genuinely come from this place, you  should be prepared to take on board the fact that you may need to change too, and to listen to what they have to say.  You may have to lead the way by showing you are willing to change too.

This genuinely tough, but a very valuable life skill. Good luck!

Purrfect Feedback… another lesson from the kittens

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

I can think of few things more emotionally gratifying than to sit with a purring kitten on your lap.  First you have to win their trust, enable them to feel safe around you; you have to entice them to you when they are a sleepy enough to just sit still rather than careen around the room at 90 miles an hour.  Then they snuggle up and and begin to purr; their way of letting you know they feel safe and content.  It leaves me feeling perfectly at peace and totally content, just like them.

Purring is just one feedback mechanism, but very powerful in its simple power of sending a clear, positive message.  Positive feedback is a very powerful tool for reinforcing ‘good’ behaviour, whether at work or in our social groups.  People both long for approval and enjoy making people feel good and especially if they are the cause of that positive feeling.  If you are struggling with a recalcitrant teenager or a resistant staffer, try finding something they are doing that you genuinely feel good about and praise it and them.  You maybe surprised at the results…


“If we treated everyone we meet with the same affection we bestow upon our favourite cat, they, too, would purr.”   Martin Delany

“Purring would seem to be, in her case, an automatic safety-valve device for dealing with happiness overflow.”   Monica Edwards



Shoes as communication

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The Iraqi journalist who flung his shoe at George Bush has just been sentenced to 3 years in jail.  Al-Zeidi, the accused, said that this was a “natural response to the occupation.”  I find it totally astonishing that with world in the state it is that Bush even allowed charges to be pressed.  I am not necessarily advocating hurling missiles as a means of communication but why on earth make a martyr of someone who is voicing such an easily understandable and well supported view.  There are people all over the world who think the occupation of Iraq is misguided, few have found such a clear way of ‘voicing’ their thoughts.  As a democratic leader, Bush should support what was, in fact, a perfectly valid expression of total frustration.  No one was hurt. 

It is interesting the various forms communication can take, sometimes it requires no words at all to make our feelings felt.  In eastern cultures, many consider the bottom of the shoe as filthy and it is a huge sign of disrespect to show it to someone.  The Iraqi populace threw their shoes at the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein during the liberation.

We need to be aware of these non-verbal communications and their power.  I suspect this one will leave a bitter legacy.  You however, can use it in a very positive way.  Read and be aware of the non-verbal communication that is all around you; be careful and consider what you actions communicate.  The way you lay out your office, the rules you operate by, how you manage you time all are very potent forms of communication.

 “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”   Peter F. Drucker

“But behaviour in the human being is sometimes a defence, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.” Abraham Maslow


The Eye of God

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I came across this picture of the Helix nebula, which the Hubble telescope took.  It just makes me feel that God is watching us through this of a dying star. 

We are all watched and judged by those around us; our colleagues, our customers, our staff and our bosses.  Each of them sees only part of what and who we are,  and like the astronomers, they draw inferences and conclusions.  Unlike the scientists, they don’t test these hypotheses, they (usually) just say this is what I observed, so that must be the case…

There is so much scope for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.  Today an on-line friend was apparently a victim of this, but it happens to us all.  We need to constantly be aware of what we are sending out, and what we pick-up from others reactions and ensuring that where possible, we clarify and question, to offer and ask for feedback.


“All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.”  Rudolf Arnheim

“They who are in the highest places, and have the most power, have the least liberty, because they are the most observed”  John Tillotson


The wrong incentives

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I was listening to a prominent banker talking about the banking crisis and one thing was very clear to me.  One of the key drivers for this was the way that the banks defined and rewarded success.  They wanted to drive up profits, and rewarded the people who came up with more and more inventive ways of describing things as ‘profitable’.  They gave them big bonuses which meant that others saw this and emulated their ‘success’.  In other words, they created a financial feedback loop and those of you who have stood near a speaker stack which is feeding back know how damaging this can be when it is amplified!

It is the job of leader to take a balanced view of what is going on.  They have to encourage innovation, and pushing the envelop but also to ensure that excess is avoided and the voice of prudence is heard.  This was a classic case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, but we were the poor schmucks who are paying for them!

“Pleasure is the greatest incentive to evil.”  Plato

Perception or Reality?

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

I wonder how many corporate hearts have flown into corporate mouths on hearing the phrase “Let me give you some feedback“? Now don’t get me wrong, as an advocate of Change I am a big fan of feedback. I believe it is not only valuable but essential. The Universe is giving it to us all the time, but sometimes we can speed-up our learning process with some well focused, clearly expressed, positively intentioned feedback.

Feedback comes in two flavours, both positive and negative. I don’t recollect ever hearing the above phrase mentioned in the context of positive feedback. I don’t know why, no one seems to be busting a gut to tell you all the wonderful things you have done. So that phrase, inevitably seems to mean trouble.

Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with one person telling another why they have a problem with something you have said or done. The trouble comes from them assuming that because they are not you, they are somehow independent, unbiased, and also perfectly informed! Clearly this is not the case. However, it is still possible to gain some useful information if the ‘feedback’ is delivered as just that, information. However, once again, it is usually handed out as a judgement; and a judgement from ‘on high’ as well!

Let’s take a look at two scenarios:-

Scenario 1: A & B both go the cinema, and it turns out that they saw the same film. They are sitting in different parts of the cinema, and therefore see and hear the performance slightly differently. They compare notes afterwards and discover they have seen different things, read in different messages and now have different feelings about the film. These are in part due to the slightly different perceptions and partly to their differing tastes, upbringings, educations and natures. They discuss it and now both have an enhanced view of what the film was about.

Scenario 2: A calls B into their office and says “Let me give you some feedback…” and proceeds to tell B why they have failed to complete an assignment ‘properly’. Clearly all the differences in scenario 1 still pertain, but now B assumes the Godlike right to hand out judgements. If B does anything other than say “Thank you” they are now labelled as resistant to change. At Best B has their own feelings and some different perceptions, and perhaps some more data.

If in Scenario 2 they communicated in the same spirit as Scenario 1 there would be only winners, as it is the winner and loser are decided by their positional power.

So if today finds you either in A or B’s position, please remember that if you just share information and feelings, then you both win; if you hand out judgements then you are a schmuck!

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“You are all cr@p!”… A lesson in Alchemy

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

A client told me the other day that one of his peers had offered this judgement of his department. Whilst it is true that this isn’t the best crafted bit of feedback* I have seen over the years, it is interesting. Normally you would either take umbrage and defend your turf, or smile politely and pretend it hadn’t happened. I suggested a third response; “What if you were to explore this notion with your team? Talk to them and ask them to get inside this notion, to pro temp act as if it were valid and explore the potential reasons someone might feel this way. What are they doing, and failing to do that might provoke this response? What might a person see or hear that could lead to this sort of judgement?”

The thing is, painful as this kind of judgement is, most of us could do better. If someone is telling us in no uncertain terms they feel this is the case, we can either ‘be right’ and just explain why they are mistaken/unfair, or we can learn and improve. It really doesn’t matter if they don’t have all the facts, or if their comment is fair. The real question is, can we use this approach to do better next time? Whether you adopt this approach in your business or in your personal life, it leads to better things. In fact is real alchemy, transmuting base material into gold.

So if today someone hurls a judgement at you, rather than just defend against it or attacking back, try exploring their perspective and see what gifts it can offer you

“”Yes, but if you take that cr@p and put a star in it, then you’ve got something.” Ed Wood

“I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself.” W.B. Yeats


  1. *Feedback, some models

Sticks & Stones..or Panning for gold amongst the effluent

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Someone asked this question “Do you care what other people think?” in a forum I belong to today and that got me thinking. We are all familiar with childhood phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Most of us have also been exposed to the idea that we create our own realities1 by the way we interpret the world. However, as I have mentioned elsewhere, there are some fundamental drives2 at work in our lives, and a very powerful one is the need to have our contribution and worth (significance) recognised by others. We are particularly vulnerable to those who we either care for or respect, or are in the power of.

It is a very advanced human being that can take in their stride others’ harsh, and perhaps false, judgments and not feel anything. Another aspect of this is when people say things about us they are telling us something about themselves and their experience of us. We can see ourselves and our actions through these ‘mirrors’ and whilst there will certainly be distortions there, they will give us more information that we had before. Mankind is a social creature and we need to understand how our actions are perceived and felt by others, especially if we need to influence them, and most of us do both need and seek to influence others.

There is a delicate balance to be found between burying our heads in the ground and ignoring nasty or painful data coming back to us and realising that amongst the muck might be the odd nugget of gold we need to pan for.

Of course this has all been written from the perspective of us as the central character in the drama with the “Slings and arrows of outrageous destiny” flying towards us. It would be just as true to say that we are just as often guilty of making those judgements and sharing them with others. Mostly, we all reside in glass houses and stone throwing is a dangerous hobby!

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.” William Shakespeare

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Abraham Lincoln


  1. Reality model, start here, then here
  2. Fundamental drives:
    1. Certainty (The desire to know and feel certain about important aspects of our life)
    2. Uncertainty (The desire for variety and adventure that makes our life interesting)
    3. Significance (The desire to be highly regarded and recognised by others)
    4. Love/Connection (The desire to give and receive love and experience fulfilling relationships)
    5. Growth (The desire to grow and evolve physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually)
    6. Contribution (The desire to share from the heart and contribute beyond ourselves)