There are three things to avoid when we want to communicate clearly.
These are when we suggest in our feedback that someone ‘always’ or ‘never’ does something, when ‘everyone else does/knows’. This can’t possibly be true and there is richer feedback in looking at the exceptions.
For example, focus on the positive and point out that when they did x the result was excellent rather than the many times they did not and the result was unsatisfactory.
A classic example of a generalisation is ‘I can’t…’ either verbalised or when the thing they think they ‘can’t do’ is avoided. Some people avoid applying for that new job because they ‘can’t’ give presentations. This is a choice we make to ‘not be able to do’ something. You may be in the situation where you are telling someone ‘I can’t give you more responsibility’ or ‘I can’t give you that territory’ but what if you could?
In order for feedback to be helpful you need to provide detailed examples so one can learn from it. Simply saying ‘You’ve worked much better this year’ or ‘I’m pleased with your progress’ deletes the important detail about specifics. When giving feedback be armed with plenty of precise examples to demonstrate the behaviour you want to focus on and encourage.
There are three different ways we can distort communication
- Assumptions – when we assume we know the other person’s feelings for example ‘You must be pleased with the sales figures this quarter’. You don’t know this and it may seem like a reasonable assumption but it will be more respectful to ask the question than assume the answer.
- Mind reading – similarly predicting the future can be unhelpful in a feedback scenario. An example of this would be saying ‘You’ll want to apply for that new job in Marketing.’ That may well be what you think but it may not be their intention at all. Again it is better to ask than mind read.
- Cause and effect – no-one can make you feel a particular way; that is your choice alone. Putting the responsibility for your feelings onto a colleague is another type of distortion. An example of this would be ‘You make me really annoyed when you come in late every Monday morning’. It would be more respectful to simply own your own feelings and say ‘I feel very annoyed when you come in late every Monday morning’ and discuss what can be done about it. The colleague isn’t coming in late to annoy you, this is a distortion.
Do you feel criticised when you get feedback that is in any way negative? Do you take it personally?
Some feedback, however positively reframed, is still not welcome; possibly because we think it is unjustified. If that is the case, the first thing to do is ‘disassociate’. This is an NLP technique which invites us to imagine we are an impartial witness, maybe someone else in your team or company. Would they give you the same feedback? Is it possible that other people would also give you that feedback? If so, act on it and behave differently. If you want a different result it is you who has to change.
Maybe it isn’t the case and the feedback is indeed unjustified. Rather than take it personally, which we often do, take the opportunity to present your case with detailed examples and challenge the feedback……….in rapport.
Rapport is essential to clear and ‘clean’ communication, without distortions, deletions and generalisations and using the VAK preference of the other person.
Truly ‘clean language’ can be achieved by reflecting the language of the other person by simply repeating what they’ve said but adding an upward inflection as if to ask them to continue.
“I find it difficult to get on with my boss, he keeps putting me down.”
“He keeps putting you down?”
You can also get more clarity with a question like, “In what way do you feel he puts you down?” or “And how does he do that?”
We can also use metaphors to gain clearer understanding without putting your own ‘stuff’ in. For example, ‘what is it like, when you feel he is putting you down?” Note that in all cases the other person’s words are repeated, not interpreted or replaced. Metaphors allow us to use our own images and feelings and provide much richer communication than just words and work extremely well across cultures as they transcend boundaries.
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