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July 12, 2016

When Giving Feedback, Can You See That the Opposite is Also True?

I was working with a client recently who said that he has been very critical of the CEO who runs a company he owns. He complained that this leader did not have good boundaries with his team and focused on this as one of the key issues of his ineffectiveness.

While my client described his perspective to me, I could hear how much he was choosing to be right about the ineffectiveness of the leader. I asked, “Would you be willing to consider that the CEO is also effective in his role?” He paused and there was a palpable shift in him as he began to consider this question.

My client began to rattle off several ways that his CEO was effective. “His team loves him! The business is very successful and I trust his loyalty to the business and me.” He mentioned a few other qualities that he appreciated about the CEO and there was no need for me to say another word. He got it.

He was seeing his CEO through the lens of blame and criticism, and his feedback was coming out that way. Now he wondered why he was so upset. Everyone was enjoying their work and the team was doing a great job, so why was he so right that the CEO was doing it wrong? It’s because he wasn’t looking for how the opposite of his story about the leader was also true.

We see this all of the time. Rarely do people give feedback from a mindset that is willing to consider that the opposite is at least as true. Rarely do we see colleagues hold their stories about one another lightly. If my client would have held his story lightly, he might have given the feedback this way:

“Bill, I appreciate how well the team is doing and how much they enjoy working with you. Your leadership style is easy going and the team finds you very approachable. My feedback about your style is that there are times where I perceive you as not saying what you really think or want if you believe it might create conflict. When I see you doing this, it looks like it costs you and the team because you end up doing things that waste your time and energy. Do you see this as a pattern? And if so, do you see that it can cost you in your effectiveness?”

When you give feedback from a consciousness of curiosity (Commitment #2) and are willing to see that the opposite could also be true (Commitment #10) both you and the person to whom you are giving feedback have a much higher chance of learning and growing in self awareness.

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