Feedback is the most problematic piece of communication, whether you are on the giving or receiving end. This is because most often feedback is loaded with judgments. Which inherently contains implications of right and wrong, good and bad, and it reinforces the use of labels to define who we are. Of course, we tend to like these labels when we perceive them as positive and dislike them otherwise. Anyway, these statements are often both said and received as “truth.”
This is because we are taught to communicate this way and it comes easy to us. And in addition, it is usually reinforced by a lack of time and conscious presence, acting under stress and pressure.
Without much analysis, we tend to say: “You should pay more attention to sth”, “you should communicate better” “you shouldn’t do sth that way” or “you did a great job!”. But even saying things like “you did a great job!”, which seems like “good, positive feedback”, is a form of judgment and evaluation. Whereby the person is putting herself/himself in a “high” position to deliver a pretty definitive opinion on someone else.
All forms of judgments lead to defense and/or aggression from the other site. And even if you think a person has changed their behavior as a result of your opinion, remember that you have created resistance and expected effects won’t last long. It is very likely that soon you will start to notice negative repercussions. It could be everything from slandering behind your back through a lack of motivation to the desire of changing a job.
How to give difficult feedback, without it getting personal?
If you haven’t heard about Non-Violent Communication before now it’s the best time to get to know it. Nonviolent Communication (commonly abbreviated to NVC) is a communication process created by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s with the aim of presenting the world with an easy-to-learn technique for defusing tense situations and nurturing a way of communicating with others that is non-confrontational and fact-based.
This method basis on three core values: self-empathy, empathy and honest self-expression, which are manifested in the four-level process which consists of observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Feedback in Non-Violent Communication will seek to serve the other person by being very specific on the observed cause and effects, without evaluation or judgment. Let’s now see how we could possibly provide feedback, which is inclusive of both persons feelings and needs.
1. Observation. What is most important we do not give feedback on someone, but on observable behaviors, which that person has had. Instead of saying „you should”, we will rather indicate the specific cause, that is, the behaviors which have led to a situation. By doing so, we are particularly mindful of distinguishing an observation without judgment from an evaluation. This is a key step in the NVC framework, and equally important when it comes to giving feedback.
Instead of „Jack, You should report every activity with clients and prospects in CRM” try „Jack, I have noticed that during last week you didn’t report anything in CRM”
2. Needs and feelings. After the observation, it’s time to talk about feelings that were triggered by the behavior or action of the person. And our need that has been fulfilled, or not. We are here at the heart of NVC. Humans are all moved by needs we all to seek to satisfy. And our feelings (anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness) tell us to what extent our needs are fulfilled or not. When providing feedback, it is always best to indicate to what extent the behavior of the other person has fulfilled our own needs. It is important to talk about us, rather than about the other person. Due to that our feedback will consequently be given without a sense of moralization and critics.
For example “I feel frustrated and disappointed. As I shared already, we are building a new culture in our company as well as in our team. And reporting in CRM is very important as we all need to know what’s going on among our clients.”
3. Request. This is another key aspect of NVC. Starting with clear observable facts, and expressing our feelings and unfulfilled needs, we should end with a specific ask. But the aim here is to maintain an empathic relationship.
So this request could be as simple as “How do you feel about what I just said?”. One could also ask how the person has received the feedback by asking her/him to repeat what she/he has just heard. Or it can be more specific, relating to taking a concrete Action “Our general rule is to report work in CRM every day. If you could do it it would be helpful for everybody”.
Does this kind of feedback work?
NVC focuses on the problem and the means to resolve it. Rather than encouraging pointless demonstration of power between people. So, although it requires some practice, if this is what we really want to achieve is absolutely worth trying.
What is crucial is that compassionate feedback must have – as its most important objective, the quality of the relationship in mind. When it is not the case, the given feedback will most likely judge the person who is receiving it. This always leads to resistance. By showing empathy we can expect that other people will feel safe, be more honest, and will be more willing to cooperate.