Unintended Consequences

Photo by Bradyn Trollip on Unsplash

Early in my career, I was the recipient of one of these messages that were meant to redirect how I was handling working with some of my colleagues. My supervisor was polite and said what was on his mind. I accepted the feedback and then had my own mini-meltdown. My interpretation of what he said was that no one liked me and didn’t want to work with me. Is that anywhere close to what he probably said? No. But it’s how I heard it. My mature way of handling it at that time was to resign pretty quickly. I had a good story about wanting to go full-time in my part-time retail job — I was ready to shift gears and try something new. Several leaders in the organization asked questions on why I was leaving, told me I was doing a great job and asked if I would stay. I couldn’t imagine telling them that I was leaving because no one liked me. I was embarrassed.

I never told this story until a few years ago when I was speaking to a group of women at an International Women’s Day event. Twenty-plus years later, I was able to really look at the situation dispassionately and think about what I wished I had done differently and what I thought that leader should have done differently.

What he (my boss) could have done differently:

  • Ensured I knew that he thought I was doing good quality work
  • Checked back in to see how I was feeling post the discussion
  • Called me in right after I resigned. Yes, I would have probably told him that it didn’t have to do with his feedback, but he probably could have probed a bit more.

What I could have done differently:

  • Heard the messages less emotionally and not interpreted them the way that I did
  • Gone back to my manager to discuss how I was feeling about the feedback and that I was concerned that no one wanted me on the team.
  • Been honest with at least one leader about my reason so that they had a chance to try to fix the situation.
  • Recognized that everyone gets feedback that sometimes hurts but that if the intention is to help you be a better performer, it’s important to listen and extract the parts that will help you in your development.

Leaders are not perfect at giving feedback. Employees are not perfect at receiving feedback. Emotions generally come into play on both sides. To make the conversation more likely to be productive, I’d advise the following four considerations:

  1. Be clear on the message you want the person to walk away with. Prepare for how you want to deliver it.
  2. Be direct when you communicate but respectful of the individual.
  3. Prepare for what reaction the person may have and then acknowledge the reaction that you observe. Help them feel seen and heard. — “It seems that you are frustrated, what would you like to talk more about?” or “I see that you’re disappointed, do you want to discuss this more?”
  4. Follow up over the next few days particularly if you notice a change in the level of the individual’s participation or engagement with the team.

Giving feedback well takes practice and is an art that needs to be customized for each individual because we each will react differently. Receiving feedback well also needs to be practiced, particularly the ability to accept it without allowing it to redefine who you are. Good feedback is a growth lesson, and you can choose to learn the lesson or decide it’s not relevant. It’s your choice.

I believe that organizations should embrace a culture where feedback is regularly asked for, given, and received. When we regularly hear a balance of things we’re doing well as well as how we can be better at what we do every day, it’s easier not to go to the extreme that I went to as a relatively new person in the workforce.

Remember…human-centric leadership wins. We follow people we believe care about us (along with a few other reasons).

Give some thought to the recent feedback messages you have given or received. Would you change anything? If so, take that lesson forward to the next one. Make sure you don’t end up with unintended consequences from your message delivery.

Have you ever delivered a feedback message to someone, and the person receives it differently than you intended? What if you didn’t know that it didn’t “land” as you hoped?

Early in my career, I was the recipient of one of these messages that were meant to redirect how I was handling working with some of my colleagues. My supervisor was polite and said what was on his mind. I accepted the feedback and then had my own mini-meltdown. My interpretation of what he said was that no one liked me and didn’t want to work with me. Is that anywhere close to what he probably said? No. But it’s how I heard it. My mature way of handling it at that time was to resign pretty quickly. I had a good story about wanting to go full-time in my part-time retail job — I was ready to shift gears and try something new. Several leaders in the organization asked questions on why I was leaving, told me I was doing a great job and asked if I would stay. I couldn’t imagine telling them that I was leaving because no one liked me. I was embarrassed.

I never told this story until a few years ago when I was speaking to a group of women at an International Women’s Day event. Twenty-plus years later, I was able to really look at the situation dispassionately and think about what I wished I had done differently and what I thought that leader should have done differently.

What he (my boss) could have done differently:

  • Ensured I knew that he thought I was doing good quality work
  • Checked back in to see how I was feeling post the discussion
  • Called me in right after I resigned. Yes, I would have probably told him that it didn’t have to do with his feedback, but he probably could have probed a bit more.

What I could have done differently:

  • Heard the messages less emotionally and not interpreted them the way that I did
  • Gone back to my manager to discuss how I was feeling about the feedback and that I was concerned that no one wanted me on the team.
  • Been honest with at least one leader about my reason so that they had a chance to try to fix the situation.
  • Recognized that everyone gets feedback that sometimes hurts but that if the intention is to help you be a better performer, it’s important to listen and extract the parts that will help you in your development.

Leaders are not perfect at giving feedback. Employees are not perfect at receiving feedback. Emotions generally come into play on both sides. To make the conversation more likely to be productive, I’d advise the following four considerations:

  1. Be clear on the message you want the person to walk away with. Prepare for how you want to deliver it.
  2. Be direct when you communicate but respectful of the individual.
  3. Prepare for what reaction the person may have and then acknowledge the reaction that you observe. Help them feel seen and heard. — “It seems that you are frustrated, what would you like to talk more about?” or “I see that you’re disappointed, do you want to discuss this more?”
  4. Follow up over the next few days particularly if you notice a change in the level of the individual’s participation or engagement with the team.

Giving feedback well takes practice and is an art that needs to be customized for each individual because we each will react differently. Receiving feedback well also needs to be practiced, particularly the ability to accept it without allowing it to redefine who you are. Good feedback is a growth lesson, and you can choose to learn the lesson or decide it’s not relevant. It’s your choice.

I believe that organizations should embrace a culture where feedback is regularly asked for, given, and received. When we regularly hear a balance of things we’re doing well as well as how we can be better at what we do every day, it’s easier not to go to the extreme that I went to as a relatively new person in the workforce.

Remember…human-centric leadership wins. We follow people we believe care about us (along with a few other reasons).

Give some thought to the recent feedback messages you have given or received. Would you change anything? If so, take that lesson forward to the next one. Make sure you don’t end up with unintended consequences from your message delivery.

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Enabler for Individuals and Organizations to Reach Their Full Potential * Activator for Change * Strategic Thinker

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Melissa Carson

Melissa Carson

Enabler for Individuals and Organizations to Reach Their Full Potential * Activator for Change * Strategic Thinker

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