How to handle feedback in everyday (judge) life – part 2

Ivan Petkovic
from Hamburg, Germany

Welcome to part 2 of this feedback article series!

Welcome to part 2 of this feedback article series! I hope you liked the introduction part. As always, share your ideas and thoughts with me in the comments or message me directly. If you have missed the last part, you can find it here.

Communicate your observation from the “I perspective”

This usually is an easy task, but let us focus on it for just a second: “Communicating observations” means, to address facts that have happened. Doing so from the “I perspective” means that the observation, as well as the feedback, comes from me and not from an undefined group “us” or “them”. The philosophy behind this is that I and only I own the observation and any disagreement should be discussed with me. Observation means I have examples and facts (not interpretations of what has happened). For example: “This morning you were 10 minutes late” is a concrete, factual observation. “You are always late” is not precise (and probably untrue, as they must have been on time at least once). Likewise “you are lazy” or “you do not care about being on time” are not observations. They are interpretations of someone’s character and possibly include judgment.

Even if you believe that the person might have a certain trait like that, addressing that trait on a personal level will not lead to appreciated feedback. A thing you can do is working on a concrete example and shape things outside of the person (also known as the environment) in order to meet your need (also known as the suggestion or request). But I am jumping ahead, and so do most of the people, leading to feedback being perceived as more of a source of conflict than as a gift.

Seek understanding before being understood

This step is crucial for turning mediocre feedback into great feedback. So far we have expressed our factual observation which did not contain any emotions or interpretations. This is crucial in order to make the second step work. If we include emotions in the previous step, it will most likely invoke the need to defend themselves into the other person. A defensive person closes up which hinders the communication because they feel the need to protect themselves from the person giving feedback. For “seeking understanding” to work, the person needs to be willing to communicate and willing to share their own perception.

But why should you seek to understand at all? And why is it important to do so before being understood?

Well, I am assuming you never know everything about the other person, the situation, and the context of the situation. And so far, in a decade of working with people inside and outside of judging, I have yet to be proven wrong. Quite often, after I have sought and gained understanding from the person I had an unmet need with, my need got met and my feedback was no longer necessary. If for nothing else, more information will give you more facts, which you can later use to give a better, more fitting suggestion.

I hope I have convinced you that it is important seeking understanding first. If not, try it just for the fun of it and you might see a difference. Unfortunately seeking to understand is not as easy as it sounds. Why is that? Usually we assume that we are right and seeking to understand risks to be proven wrong. Thus, we usually communicate by making a statement. But in order to understand, we need to ask questions. Asking proper questions is tricky though. A whole article can be written about asking questions. A summary would look like this:

  • Do ask questions instead of making statements.
  • Avoid asking “why” questions. These are the most penetrating and, if not used with care, can make the person think that they need to justify themselves. This again might lead  to that person being defensive.

Asking questions is really powerful since people will rarely, if ever, be mad at you for asking them. The last trick is to not make this step sound like an interrogation, or a job interview. This is tricky since it is not achieved by adding something to the mix of questions you ask, but by how you ask the questions. You probably do not have any experience with being interrogated (if you do, please contact me), but you might have attended a job interview. At a bad job interview, the person conducting it has a list of questions, and is not really responsive to the person being interviewed. Communication is usually one way and monotone. At a good interview, the interviewer makes the other person feel good. They notice that the interviewer is interested in the things they have to say, actually listens to them and establishes some  kind of connection. A good interviewer, like you, wants to understand without making the other person defensive, while also giving them the feeling that they are actually interested in what they have to say. I am sorry to break it to you, but this last part comes with experience and most of it is trial and error. But even if you can not avoid asking questions like it is a job interview, it will still be more valuable than not asking questions at all.

At the end, the new information you have received might have changed your interpretation of what you have originally observed and modified the feedback or made it not necessary at all. But if you still need to proceed with the feedback, continue with the next step. No matter the outcome, I always thank the other person for helping me to better understand the situation. If you want to make sure the other person knows what you have understood, you can summarize their answers. This closes the feedback loop, which is going to be discussed in details while we are receiving the feedback.

Communicate your need

This one might sound strange and artificial at first, but that is because we are not used to communicating needs (at least not yet). The philosophy behind this step is to make it clear that you are missing something and asking the other person to help provide what is missing. The key message to send is that you are seeking help to, and not demanding to, meet your need. And it is as simple as that. An example: “I need to my judges to be on time, so that I have enough time for a team briefing”.

As I have said before, doing this might feel strange at first. But it will stop to do so with practice. Furthermore, communicating your need helps the other person to understand the reason you are giving feedback. Needing and wanting are two different things. Wanting something is a solution for your need, but it might not be the only solution, or the solution that the other person will, or can provide. Communicating the need opens the space for finding a solution together that the other person actually is comfortable with.

In order to keep the size of the article reasonable, we will talk about receiving feedback in the next article!

Until next time, stay well, stay tuned and keep practicing!

Ivan Petkovic

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