There is a difference between feedback and criticism. In layman's terms, feedback is good, and we should resist the tendency to criticize. Despite knowing this fact, we lose control and end up slamming people for the results of their action. The knee-jerk reaction is to admonish or even scold the perpetrator. The wrongdoer might have come forward to own up the mistake. We overlook this fact often and start berating the person. How can we segregate anger from our reaction? Is there a solution to this problem?
Recently, a friend quoted an incident where he reacted in the predictable manner of shoot first and then think. My friend was involved in high stakes change involving multiple business units for a big organization. So it required bringing multiple teams together to conduct different test runs and also for numerous reviews. They finally secured permission to proceed with the change. The team chose a Sunday to implement the change. On Friday morning, two days before D-day, a team member raises a red flag stating he has insufficient rights to perform the a critical step in the grand change.
Upon hearing the bad news, my friend came down on the team member like a ton of bricks. After the initial flare up, they began the scramble to find the person with the necessary rights to perform the critical change. Within a few hours, they sorted out the issues. While everybody was running hither and thither to find a solution, my friend felt bad about blowing his fuse at the team member. The team member came to my friend because he was brave enough to own up his mistake. If my friend doesn't encourage openness in his team, who will?
We are aware that we need to promote honesty and transparency to work collaboratively. But we end up shouting at the people who commits even a small mistake. When it comes to such situations, we are unable to control our inner beast. Take the example of Mark Twain. Thanks to his skills in stitching sentences, he could insult anyone vehemently with words. Although he wrote scathing remarks to many of the people, these comments never reached the intended parties. Remember letter were the predominant form of communication. So his wife intercepted these messages and never posted it. As a result, Mark Twain felt better after writing these letters and because of the timely intervention of Mrs. Mark Twain, there was no sharp increase in the haters.
We can't run to our better halves for help. But we still can implement a check which is similar to Mrs. Twain had done for her husband. We do not have to respond immediately. You could always ask for more time to think about the problem. A little time to think helps if someone phones you up with bad news. Responses over email are easier to handle. You could compose an email, save it as a draft, revisit after a few minutes and trash it or edit it again.
Remember there is a fine line between feedback and criticism. You will never know when you have crossed it. Why do you want to lose a team member or a friend or dear one by accidentally stepping over the line? If you are still wondering about what happened on that Sunday, everything went well. My friend is a happy man. But I am not sure if he had a discussion with his team member.
Photo Courtesy: Julie Falk