Give the other person a chance to do some of the work

In a recent leadership team-building workshop, we practiced giving clean feedback. Later, Jane asked me during a break for a chat about how to deal with another participant who had blocked her attempt at giving feedback on a behaviour causing a lot of friction between them – during shift handover, Mary reacted to improvement suggestions from Jane by snapping at her and ignoring the suggestion.

I asked her how she wanted to give the feedback. Like a first attempt by most of us, the message was vague, general – and it hurt. (I checked this last piece by letting Jane imagine she were Mary for a moment and then repeating her own words back to her: she winced!) I coaxed her to describe more precisely what it was that Mary did that triggered Jane’s frustration. (This took a couple of iterations.) Then I asked how Jane felt and if she could imagine saying this to Mary. New land!

Finally, I asked her if she knew how she could make the suggestions without Mary snapping. Puzzled silence. I suggested she ask Mary directly, how Jane could make the suggestions.

The next morning Jane told me that the two of them had had a quiet word during the evening. Mary apologised for blocking the feedback. Jane delivered what she had practiced. Mary let it sink in, mentioned that Jane’s reporting on her emotions helped Mary understand what was happening in their interaction and she came up with a suggestion that was acceptable to both of them.

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