A husband and wife are sitting on their front porch one evening enjoying the night air. The husband says to the wife “In the moonlight teeth look like pearls”. The wife says “Who’s Pearl and what were you doing in the moonlight with her?”
Misunderstandings can be funny — but misunderstandings when you are giving feedback can cause discomfort. Employees might find themselves disengaged, unmotivated or confused about what to do next. And even worse, when managers are concerned about disengaging or demotivating employees, giving feedback gets harder. In some cases, to the point that managers will choose not to give feedback.
One of my favorite quotes is: “People don’t question the words you use, they question your intent” (Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations). To minimize misunderstandings when providing feedback to your employees, focus on your intent.
Be Clear About Your Intent
If you are concerned that the employee may misunderstand or question your intent, be upfront and clarify it with the employee.
This is simple and practical Two sentences. In the first sentence, state what your intent IS. In the second sentence, state what your intent IS NOT.
For example, you may have an employee who needs constructive feedback on their work. You really like this employee, you know this employee takes criticism to heart and you really don’t want to hurt this employee’s feelings.
I want to provide you some feedback on your work. My intent is NOT to send the message that you did not do good work. My intent IS to give you feedback so you can do even better the next time.
I want to provide you feedback on your work. My intent is to give you feedback so you can continue to develop your skills. My intent is not to hurt your feelings or make you second guess your ability.
Caution: Our tendency is to make this more complicated than it needs to be. Don’t try to connect the sentences, and don’t throw in a ‘but’. If you find that it is taking more than two sentences, it’s too long. Really. Just two sentences.
And there’s a bonus……it works with others too — your family, your friends, your kids, your spouse or significant other. I use this skill daily. And once you practice this skill, it gets easier. Soon you will begin to clarify your intent without thinking.
Here’s how it sounds at my house some mornings:
(Me, talking to a Little One about leaving the house on time in the morning):
“My intent in setting the timer IS so you can see how much time you have to finish getting ready and manage it on your own. My intent is NOT to frustrate you by reminding you several times.”
Does it work all the time in those situations? No. But these statements get easier and easier to explain what the intent IS and IS NOT, which also gives respect and clarity to the person receiving the message.
Lastly, I love to read and am constantly looking for book recommendations. So here’s my recommendation for you. Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny and Ron MacMillan is one of my favorite books. It provides great tips and skills to have some of your most difficult conversations.
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