Jeff Standridge (Intro):
Are you ready to change the trajectory of your business and see massive improvements? Each week, we’ll share strategies and practices to generate sustained results and long-lasting success in your organization. Welcome to The Innovation Junkies Podcast.
Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of The Innovation Junkies Podcast. My name’s Jeff Standridge, your host, and I am running it solo today. Our co-host, Jeff Amerine, is actually out of pocket. He’s traveling the world, and so he’s left me with the keys, and we’re going to see if we can’t talk about something valuable for you guys today.
The topic I want to talk about is what I call feedback without fallout. Feedback without fallout. How many times have you had to have a difficult conversation with someone as a leader, or maybe even as just a colleague, or a peer, you had to have a difficult conversation with someone, you didn’t know how to have that conversation, you stressed over the conversation, and then no matter how much you prepared for it, you ended up doing it less optimally, and it ended up going badly? Well, that’s happened to me a number of times, and so I want to talk a little bit about an example that someone shared with me in a real-life scenario some 25 years ago.
I was a young leader within a rapidly-growing publicly traded company and this lady probably was about 10 or 15 years my senior. She had far more experience in the corporate world than I, yet for some reason, she ended up working for me versus me working for her. As I’ve shared in other episodes before, I always have a regular touch base meeting with all of my direct reports, depending on the person and the scope of responsibility they have. That might be a biweekly meeting, it might be a weekly meeting. But in this particular instance, this person came to my door, and she knocked on the door, and she said, “Hey, Jeff.” This was outside of our regular touch base meeting, I should add as well. She knocked on the door and she said, “May I give you some feedback?” I said, “Sure, come on in.”
Truth be told, I probably had my back to the door, and didn’t readily turn around. I probably shouted that over my shoulder as I was very, very young and early stage leadership career. But she just sat quietly and waited for me to give her my attention, and when I did so she shared, “I’d like to share with you what I’m observing, I’d like to tell you how it makes me feel, and I’d like to tell you the impact that it’s having, and then I’d like to give you a chance to respond.”
She then began, “When I come in for our regular weekly touch base and I begin to share where I am in certain projects and milestones, where I’m having delays, where I’m having struggles, where I need assistance, I begin to observe a tilting of the head, a glazing over of the eyes, and I begin to then observe a frequent checking of the watch. That makes me feel like my job’s not important, it makes me feel like I’m not a valued member of the team, and it makes me feel like I want to look for a job somewhere else. The impact that it’s having is that I have floated my resume out across a number of different positions where I feel like I might be suited and I have an interview tomorrow. Now, I’d like to give you a chance to respond.”
As you can imagine, I was taken aback. I was flabbergasted; didn’t really know what to say. She had completely disarmed me. She had taken all of my arrows away. Of course, all I could do was say, “I am terribly sorry. I’m humiliated. I didn’t realize that I was doing that,” and I remember telling her at the time, “I can’t promise that that behavior’s going to change immediately, but I can promise you that I will give you permission to hold me accountable to not let that kind of behavior happen, because that’s not the kind of culture I want to build, that’s not the kind of leader I want to be,” so she really set me up for a transformation that has transformed my leadership career over the course of the last 20, 25 years. It was probably a year or two following that I really sat down and processed exactly what it was that she did in that meeting and tried to build a model that I could then use in becoming a better leader in how I give feedback to someone in a similar manner.
I’ll tell you that I have developed this perspective that whenever I have to have a difficult conversation with someone, one of the things that I do before I go into that conversation, and this could be with an employee that works for me, or reports to me, this could be with a colleague that works across the hall, maybe we’re peers, but if I have to have a difficult conversation, some people would call it a “confrontation,” I don’t like to use those words, but if I have to have a difficult conversation, the overarching thing that I try to think about is, “When this conversation is over, I want them thinking more about the situation, and perhaps their own behavior than they are thinking about my behavior,” and that just initial approach guides me to behave differently going in. It helps me to step into almost a different persona, to carry out this conversation in a manner that leads them thinking more about the situation or their behavior than they leave thinking about my behavior.
But then let’s unpack what this lady did for me that helped me build this framework for giving feedback without fallout, and I give her all the credit. The first thing that she did was she planned ahead. She thought about what she was going to say, she put together an agenda, and she knew exactly how to go about having that conversation. I would even probably safely say that she practiced that conversation either with herself, with her significant other, or with other trusted members that she has within her realm.
The second thing that she did is she asked for permission. Had I jumped in and started debating with her or rebutting her statements, she could have said, “Now, wait a minute. You gave me permission to give you feedback,” so she asked me permission to give me feedback.
The third thing she did was she owned the agenda. She planned that agenda ahead. She asked me for permission, and then she laid out the agenda that she fully owned. She was running that conversation. There was no question about that. Yes, she did report to me, but she was doing the best job of leading up, if you will, that I have ever experienced in my career, and so she laid out the agenda, “I’d like to share with you what I’m observing, I’d like to tell you how it makes me feel, I’d like to share with you then the impact that it’s having, and then give you a chance to respond.”
She spoke factually and/or at least observationally. She didn’t share innuendo, she didn’t speak in broad generalities. She said, “This is what I’m observing when I come in to meet with you and I’m sharing project milestones, bottlenecks where I’m having issues where I need assistance. I begin to observe a tilting of the head, a glazing over of the eyes, and a frequent checking of the watch,” so she spoke factually, or at least she spoke very observationally.
The next thing she did is she used “I” and “me” messages. In fact, I don’t even know that she used the word “you.” When we start sharing observations and they begin with the word “you,” that comes across very accusatory; we are accusing someone of doing this. That creates grounds upon which I can argue. Well, see, she took all of those arrows away by using the word “I” and “me.” “I begin to observe when I come in to meet with you, when I am sharing my project milestones and bottlenecks, I begin to observe a frequent tilting of the head, a tilting of the head, glazing of the eyes. I begin to observe a frequent checking of the watch. It makes me feel as this. It makes me feel as that,” so she used “I” and “me” messages.
She also only spoke for herself. She didn’t try to speak for anyone else. Many times, we try to validate our feedback by saying, “There are a lot of people,” “A lot of people feel,” “Members of my team feel.” She did not reference anyone outside of herself. She said, “I see this, I observe that, and it makes me feel this way or that.”
Then the next thing she did was she shared the impact. Now, in a business conversation, this was a personal and a business conversation, so it was very prudent and appropriate for her to talk about how it made her feel and the impact it was having. Makes me feel like I’m not a valued member of the team, makes me feel like I want to look for a job somewhere else. The impact it’s having is I have floated my resume and now I have an interview. I understand in some business settings, we may not want to talk about how it makes me feel, but we should be willing to talk about the objective impact it’s having. She could have stopped short of saying, “It made me feel this way or that.” She could have just said, “I want to share with you the impact it’s having, and as a result of that, I have floated my resume, and now, I have an interview.”
The final thing she did, rather, is she allowed for dialogue, discussion, and just opened up. After she finished her agenda, she just said, “Now, I’ll give you a chance to respond,” and then she shut up and she waited for me to respond. The only way I could respond because she had taken all of my arrows away, she didn’t accuse, she only spoke for herself, she spoke factually and observationally, she had gained my permission, the only thing that I could do was say, “I am so terribly sorry.”
When you’re thinking about the next conversation that you need to have with someone, whether it’s a conversation with a leader that you’re trying to have because of some feedback you need to share with him or her, or maybe it’s with a peer in the organization, a family member, a spouse or significant other, a child or a teenager, or what have you, think about what this lady did for me, the framework that she created. She planned ahead. She knew exactly what she was going to say ahead of time. She gained my permission. She asked for and gained my permission. She built out and owned the agenda, and she communicated that agenda to me. She spoke factually and observationally. She used “I” and “me” messages, and I like to say she used the word “I” and “me” three to five times more than she was used the word “you,” and I’m not even sure she used the word “you.” She spoke only for herself. She owned what she was observing. She owned her feelings. She didn’t try to validate those by bringing other people in, she only spoke for herself, and then she allowed for dialogue, discussion, and resolution of the issue.
Feedback without fallout. My recommendation is that you give this conversation style and this conversation framework a test when you’re getting ready to have your next difficult conversation. Leave them thinking more about the situation or their behavior than they walk out of that conversation thinking about your behavior. That’s it for today. This has been another episode of The Innovation Junkies Podcast. Thanks for joining.
Jeff Amerine (Outro):
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