How to Give Feedback When You’d Really Rather Not

I spent years in corporate America helping people who were frustrated with other people find the right words to express their disappointment, resentment or anger.

People either explode with rage or sit and simmer until they reach the boiling point or develop ulcers.

How do you get your point across without killing someone or sabotaging your own self esteem and power?

You may need to assess your beliefs about conflict. It’s bad.  It never turns out right.  They’ll hate me. etc.  Your beliefs dictate how you handle feedback.  You must believe that if you handle it well, that it will be well received.

The key is to release your thoughts in the way that steam is released from a pressure cooker…a little at at time.  Don’t wait until you can’t stand it anymore.  It may be OK to let an incident or two go by (if they aren’t major). But the moment you see anunwanted pattern developing, it’s time to address it.

Clearly, there is no guarantee your message will be heard in the way you want, but there are things you can do to increase the chances of that.

1. Make sure the person has at least a few minutes to have a conversation with you. Something as simple as a polite “Do you have a few minutes?” is a good start.

2.  If you’re reluctant to start the conversation, identify the source of your reluctance and start the conversation there.  “I have something to talk with you about but I’m afraid… “I’ll hurt your feelings” or “you’ll be angry” or “this will have a negative impact on our relationship” or what ever your concern is.

3. Talk about the other person’s actions and behavior, not your assessment or judgment about them. Labels like ‘neurotic’, ‘controlling’, ‘irresponsible’ or ‘passive-aggressive’ are incendiary and will almost certainly raise the hackles of the receiver and start a fight.

4.  Get clear yourself about specifically you need from the person that you aren’t getting.  State in as specific behavioral terms as  you can muster what you expect or want to see instead.  “I need to get a response within 48 hours of contacting you” or “I need you to put your files/clothes/equipment away as soon as you’re done with them”.

5.  Thank them for listening and ask if there is anything you can do to help them fulfill the request you’ve just made.  You might actually be part of the problem. (Hmm, imagine that.)

If you practice talking about observable behavior rather than someone’s intentions, motives or character, you’ll be more successful and build confidence in your ability deal with difficult situations.

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