The Art of Giving Feedback

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Doctor Neha: Today I have a friend and guest named Raheel. Welcome.

Raheel: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Doctor Neha: Tell me what’s been on your mind?

Raheel: As you know I’m an engineer. Oftentimes I play to efficiency over other aspects. I try to be direct and to the point, so I can check something off my list and get to the next one.

I found, however, when giving feedback, this probably isn’t the best approach to get it done. Personally, that’s how I would prefer it. If someone told me, “Hey this isn’t working, let’s leave the emotion out of it.” or “It’s not working; let’s figure out how to do this better and let’s move on.” However, I think you’ve got to go slow in order to go fast when it comes to feedback and when others’ emotions are involved. Could you give me some advice on what’s the best way of navigating through that?

Doctor Neha: Excellent question. A lot of people struggle with thisThe question is “How do we get this done and move through it?” The difficulty in doing that is, what you have mastered is how to control your own emotions. What you’re saying is, “Someone can give me feedback and guess what, it’s not personal, I’m going to take the feedback and move forward to get to the end goal. The end goal trumps my heart.” You figured out how to leave that part out.

The first thing I’d say is, “What is it that you’re most worried about will happen if you do slow down when you give feedback and you allow for maybe the messiness or the ambiguity of emotion to come up around feedback?”

Raheel: I think it’s more that I don’t know how to do that. For example, let’s say we’re working together.

Doctor Neha: OK.

Raheel: I thought that during this video you should have told me exactly what to do and written a script for me.

Doctor Neha: Okay.

Raheel: You decided that wasn’t the way to do it.

Doctor Neha: Right, I said, “Let’s go organic.”

Raheel: I wanted to tell you, “Hey Neha, I think I’ll be better and this will be a better product if we can just be direct. If we can have a script and I can just get to read off that.” But I don’t want to hurt your feelings, and maybe that would hurt your feelings. You have a way you do it, and I’m suggesting the way that you do it isn’t the best way.

Doctor Neha: Okay, this is a great example. If you have not given someone honest feedback because you’re worried that you’re going to hurt their feelings, what I would tell you is, this actually isn’t about the other person. It’s actually about that you don’t trust that you can handle yourself in the face of someone else’s emotion. It’s not that I can’t handle the feedback—you don’t know yet because you haven’t given it to me. What you’re trying to avoid is your discomfort in the face of my emotion. Do you get it?

Raheel: Yes.

Doctor Neha: It’s a little bit of a reverse play, but the excuse that people typically make is, “Oh, I can’t tell so-and-so because if I did, they would be heartbroken, or they wouldn’t take it very well, or they’d be really upset.” Well guess what? The treatment or the cure for that is making sure that you believe that the other person is strong, whole, resourceful and capable. Do you believe those things?

Raheel: I do.

Doctor Neha: Then you have to manage yourself: breathe through the discomfort, the physical sensations in your body in the face of me getting upset or crying or getting angry or whatever it is that I do in response to your feedback. And stay curious with me.

Doctor Neha: Let’s say you gave me that feedback you wanted to give me at the beginning. Let’s say you said to me, “Hey Neha, I’d really prefer a script and I know that’s not how you do it, but I think this would have gone a lot better if we had done that.” And let’s say I just lose it. I get upset, and I storm out of here. Then your response would be, “Hey, Neha, when I said that to you, what happened for you?”

All you do is get curious—slowing down to speed up—and be willing to sit in the discomfort of me working this out. It doesn’t have to be some big complex thing. I may give you feedback such as “The tone in which you said it really hurt my feelings. It seemed like you were acting condescending” or whatever I make up about it.

If you’re willing to hear that, and you’re willing to sit in your own discomfort of my emotions, you can slow down enough so you can later speed up and rock it efficiently.

Does that make sense?

Raheel: Yes, it does.

Doctor Neha: The tool you want to use in the book is called The Curiosity Tool. It’s the one where you don’t start saying things like, “What is wrong with you? Why are you so emotional? You shouldn’t do that” and judging me for what I’m doing.

All you say is, “Hey, Neha, I saw you start crying, I saw you get up and leave the room right after I said that. What happened?” You want to breathe through your discomfort. You do those two things and you stay with me.

Then we’re going to have a stronger relationship because in the end we’re going to trust that if something’s difficult, we’re going to be able to handle it.

Raheel: Right.

Doctor Neha: Instead of tiptoeing around each other and trying to make sure that everybody’s happy, that becomes an endless, exhausting dance. Have you ever felt that way? It’s a little exhausting.

Raheel: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: You know the dance.

Raheel: I know it too well.

Doctor Neha: Yes. That endless, exhausting dance only leads to your relationships aren’t going to be as authentic, you’re going to have more passive-aggressiveness, more awkwardness, and more unspoken experiences. Instead, slow down and get comfortable in the discomfort of others’ emotions.The sooner you master this the better.

I’d love to hear from you. Contact me by dropping a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha, or write your comments and questions below.

Your Awareness Prescription for Giving Feedback

  1. Manage yourself.
  2. Make sure it’s a good time for the other person to have a conversation.
  3. Be objective and specific.
  4. Get curious.
  5. Listen deeply.

In all honesty,

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