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Giving Feedback Without Creating Enemies: Re-define Honesty

When I discuss the concept of complete honesty with people, most struggle with this the most when it comes to giving feedback.

The frequency with which people tell lies is quite shocking when you step back and look at it. Every day most people tell hundreds of lies. They omit the truth or they blatantly say something with they do not believe. Most of the time this is to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to prevent a confrontation.

I used to lie all the time.

It was my defence against allowing people to see the real me. I had developed abandonment and rejection fears, so I lied to avoid people seeing anything bad about me. I pretended I was happy regardless of how I actually felt. I played down my feelings towards women so they could never have a chance to reject me (hello “friendzone”!)

I agreed with just about everything.

In New Zealand, I see this everywhere. We seem to have a culture of keeping negative thoughts, emotions and disagreements to ourselves. We do everything we can to avoid rejection and hatred. We take pride in being liked rather than being honest.

After working with offenders for more than 7 years, I have a pretty strong theory about what this leads to: low self-confidence, drug use and violence.

Lying is one of those behaviours that feel good at the time but just lead to bigger problems in the future. It is weak to lie. You are simply avoiding discomfort, and the crazy thing is you are making your life worse rather than better.

Many people consider themselves to be honest despite lying almost every single day. It’s time to re-define honesty.

By lying, even telling little “white lies”, you are creating three massive problems:

  1. People who know you do this will trust you less. This will lead to missed opportunities, inability to form close connections with people (this was the bane of my twenties), and resentment from your friends.
  2. Your self-confidence will never go above a certain level. When you lie you are essentially telling yourself that you are not good enough. You are hiding your truth, therefore your mind assumes that your true self must be “bad”. If you tell yourself you are bad hundreds of times per day with your bullshit, you are constantly chipping away at your self-esteem.
  3. You create a fictional life. Your friends will only know the fake you, so you won’t even be sure they like you at all. People who would love the real you don’t get to see it and pass you by. You end up burdened with secrets and too many masks to wear.

Honesty is freedom.

You never have to worry about what you are saying or who’s in the room. You never have to hide or calculate.

People hold onto small, seemingly insignificant negative thoughts and emotions, telling themselves that it’s easier to just keep it to themselves. They tell people they feel “fine” even if they don’t. They keep their mouths shut even when they hear someone say something that upsets them. They agree with things they disagree with. They agree to disagree with things they don’t want to agree to disagree with (whew!)

Those of you who regularly read my material know I’m not the biggest fan of the “modern” education system. One of the many things this system fails to teach children is how to assertively but not aggressively speak the truth. Quite the opposite in fact; I think schools teach us to lie. We are so harshly punished for getting things wrong that we feel forced to pretend to do it right.

I call this “the red pen effect“.

To help fill this gap in education, I would like to share my favourite strategy for giving negative feedback without creating enemies. In other words, how to assertively say how I feel about someone’s behaviour without them getting upset or having to sugar-coat it. Incidentally, this model I’m about to share with you is also extremely powerful for delivering positive feedback.

Giving feedback define honesty

The BEID feedback model

I would love to credit this to someone but despite searching high and low on the internet I cannot find the source. Whomever you are, I salute you.

This model is a structure, like training-wheels on your first bicycle, for giving negative feedback. It is a way to accurately and honestly express yourself. You can use this to prepare feedback you plan to give in the future. Then, once you are familiar with the model, you can use it in your head to guide you through a tough conversation.

The standard model structure:

B = behaviour

E = evidence/examples

I = impact

D = do (change behaviour)

I am also going to add another step in here to increase the effectiveness. After Impact I am going to add “Relate”, as this is something I’ve added to the model following some great results.

First you need to prepare them for this conversation. I think a simple “Hey David, can I talk to you about something for a couple of minutes?” is fine. You just need their undivided attention. Don’t do a big suspenseful build-up, just get them alone and focused.

B – Behaviour

Identify the behaviour specifically that you want to give feedback on. Avoid attacking the person’s personality or beliefs. Isolate the problem. This will allow the person to listen without feeling like they are being insulted about who they are.

E.g.:

a) “I would like to talk to you about hostile way you’ve been acting towards me in team meetings”

b) “I want to give you some feedback on some of the negative things you’ve been saying about me to others”

c) “I’d like to talk to you about something a little uncomfortable which you may not be aware of: issues with your personal hygiene”

E – Evidence (examples)

In order for your feedback to be taken seriously, they need to clearly see your point of view. Just saying they do something in general won’t cut it. You need to give them at least one specific example as evidence.

This will also help diffuse their objections and defensiveness. Make sure you present this evidence as your perspective rather than solid fact. They can argue facts but they can’t argue that your opinion is wrong, because it’s your opinion.

a)      “Like this morning, I felt like you interrupted my pitch to the manager before I got to the best part”

b)      “Like on Thursday when you were in the lunchroom and told Sally that I sleep around”

c)       “This morning, when it was really warm, I noticed that you had fairly strong body odour”

I – Impact

At this point most people will be feeling under attack and defensive. Hey, I never said they wouldn’t. But it’s at this stage where you are going to diffuse theyir reaction the most: explaining the impact their behaviour is having. Up until this point some people will feel you are being judgmental. Don’t get frustrated with them about this; the school system taught them to be afraid of honest feedback. Have some sympathy.

By explaining clearly the impact their behaviour is having on you and others, you are showing them the consequences of their behaviour. You’re also giving them a choice: change or stay the same. The aim here is to make them uncomfortable with their behaviour rather than blame this attack on you.

This is where “I feel…” statements come in handy.

Hint: the most powerful impact you can show them is the impact it is having on themselves personally. People are inherently selfish, so play to that (see examples b and c).

a)      “I felt undermined, like I was worthless, and the boss didn’t get to hear the best part of my presentation. That means I will now have to waste his time and mine repeating the entire thing to him in private. It also makes it hard for me to trust you, even though I want a good working relationship with you”

b)      “When you do this people feel like they can’t trust you, that you will tell their secrets to everyone. Not only does this make me distrust you, it makes people who have control over your career in this company think that you cannot be trusted. They have told me this directly”

c)       “Because everyone else is too scared to tell you about your body odour, they instead just talk about it behind your back”

R – Relate

In this new step I like to relate to the person with a personal experience (keep it short and keep it truthful). I want to show them that I have actually done what they are doing. This shows that I have the right to give feedback and that I do not consider myself to be better than they are.

This is not about saying you’re better than them because you don’t do it anymore. This is about showing that you are the same status as them: just a human being. You should genuinely think of a good relatable experience, because then you can enter the conversation with sympathy for them, which they will feel. This will reduce confrontation immediately.

a)      “It’s like when I used to pick on Robert, because he annoyed me so much. Little did I know that he missed out on a pay-rise because everyone trusted my opinion of him. I felt so guilty for screwing him over just because I personally didn’t get on with him”

b)      “I used to do it too. I once told my old secretary about having seen the boss trying to hit on another one of the staff members. Turns out she was my boss’s cousin. She told him everything and I got moved to another team. That’s when I learned my lesson”

c)       “I once had a boss come to me and tell me to put on some deodorant. Turns out everyone had a nickname for me because my armpits smelled bad. I was horrified – they had all known for months”

D – Do

At this point they will be feeling a little lost, sometimes, because they don’t know how to change. Or they’ll simply be in shock from having someone be so blatantly honest with them. This is OK. Actually, this is good.

They are now open to suggestions. Secretly they want guidance on what to do next. And even if they don’t, as a confident person you need to set boundaries. This is the part where you outline in concise but clear detail what you want them to do differently. Again this highlights that you are focused on a single piece of behaviour and are not attacking them as a person.

You can’t just say “So stop being such a dick” as that is a personal attack. Instead try giving them an alternative behaviour. At least this way you’ve given them every opportunity to change.

a)      “So if you don’t like me or my style, that’s ok. All I ask is that in public settings, like team meetings, you let me speak until I am finished. After that I welcome you to constructively challenge anything I suggest, as I’m always open to feedback. Just let me get it all before you do”

b)      “So I’d like you to keep conversations about me away from the workplace and our shared colleagues. If you want to bitch me out to your partner or friends, that’s fine, but please don’t try to harm my reputation or yours through talking about my personal life anymore”

c)       “I recommend that you keep a bottle of spray-on deodorant at your desk, and hit yourself with it a couple of times per day. That’s what I do now to avoid the issue”

And there you have it.

I recommend you take the time to plan out these conversations, using this model. It takes practice to get it right without stumbling around, getting nervous etc. Don’t worry if you don’t quite get it right. Even close enough will do. The point is you express how you honestly feel, without a personal attack and without sugar-coating it to avoid confrontation.

Using models like this is a great way to build confidence with uncomfortable situations, because you can just follow the model without having to free-style or ad lib.

And if you have any stories about applying this to a particularly challenging situation, please tell me about it. I love those stories! Either comment below or email me at dan@brojo.org

Cheers

Dan






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