Telling the Untellable: And Getting Away With It!
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:
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.
- 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?