Have you ever been in the position where you had to give someone feedback for their behavior but doing so would be awkward or strenuous on your relationship?  Maybe you have had to give feedback to your boss or someone else who you felt would not take very well to it.  Maybe the person is very reasonable but the topic is rather sensitive? We all have been in this position and it can be very frustrating.

Here is a great tip for dealing with tricky feedback situations; embed your feedback in a metaphor or in a story.

Say, for example, a colleague of yours, David, is not paying enough attention to his personal hygiene. Imagine a situation where David has left the room, but his odor has not!  You don’t want to tell David directly to go and wash up because, well, it will be an uncomfortable conversation to have, it may cause hard feelings, could potentially strain your relationship and if David were your boss you may even find yourself out of a job!

You could however, tell David a story like this

“I used to work with this guy who smelt so bad people in the office would avoid being around him. I don’t know if he didn’t bathe or if he just didn’t wear deodorant, but it was very disruptive to everyone, and we all started building up very negative feelings against him, which was a shame because he was a really great guy if you could stand being near him. One day the office manager couldn’t ignore it anymore and confronted him “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there are other people in this office as well. Please start respecting them by taking care of your personal hygiene. It’s not fair to the people around you to have to smell your body odor.” Needless to say, he was mortified to be told off like this, and started taking better care of himself. Thank goodness too because once he did everyone got to appreciate what a truly wonderful guy he was.”

The beauty of this method of providing feedback is that you can pass a very clear message to someone and you are at no risk of being accused of confronting him or her. This is after all a story about someone else’s hygiene.

To get the best result when you provide feedback in this, or any other manner, always provide a carrot!  State clearly  in your metaphor or story the benefit that the protagonist got by following the suggestion made to him.  Make sure the benefit is a personal one for the hero of the story. In this example, David’s benefit was clear: “…once he did everyone got to appreciate what a truly wonderful guy he was”.  Compare this with:“…he didn’t smell anymore which made everyone in the office happy”.  Not much of a carrot there to motivate someone to action.

To recap:

  • Embed feedback in a metaphor or story,
  • Include clear instructions,
  • Finish off with a personal benefit.

Now give yourself a pat on the back!

Can you think of other ways this could be useful?