Many of my coaching clients and former students face challenges in their work environment--conflicts with colleagues, intense pressure to succeed, various forms of dysfunction in the culture. But many of these people are leaders who have some ability to change that culture (and, in some cases, who bear responsibility for creating it). What if you're not in a position to change the culture? And what if it's not just a dysfunctional environment but a toxic one?
I've talked recently with several people in this situation--they're new to the organization, senior enough to interact with top leadership (for better and for worse), but junior enough that their ability to drive change is limited. Not all of their organizations are truly toxic, but they're all less-than-healthy environments. Some common themes from these conversations, work with past clients, and my own experience with dysfunctional cultures suggest a set of survival strategies:
1) Serenity Now!
Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer is a cliché because it's true, and the quickest way to burn out in a dysfunctional environment is to fail to recognize what can't be changed. A less quick, but equally certain, path to burnout is to passively accept all dysfunction and make no effort to bring about change. It's essential to chart a path between these unhealthy alternatives, and to do this we have to take some manageable risks to determine what we can and can't change: Start small and scale up.
In a truly toxic environment--one that's dysfunctional by design--meaningful change is nearly impossible because the dysfunction is working to someone's benefit. But even when we can't change a single thing in our environment, we can still control how we respond. I don't mean to compare a toxic workplace to a concentration camp, but I'm reminded that Viktor Frankl, who was in Auschwitz while Niebuhr was composing his prayer, wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "When we are no longer able to change a situation...we are challenged to change ourselves." [p 115]
One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional environment is its ability to trigger a threat response, and when we can't change the organization (or leave it), we need to develop the ability to remain calm in the face of these triggers, to regulate our negative emotions effectively when we're triggered, and to find healthy and efficient ways to de-escalate those emotions. (And coaching can help.)
2) Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
Dysfunctional organizations have a boundless appetite for employees' time and do nothing to encourage people to stop working. (Truly toxic cultures actively induce feelings of guilt at the mere suggestion that a healthy life might include activities other than work.)
The dilemma is that most professionals actively collude in these dynamics. I'm certainly a workaholic, albeit a happy one, and almost all of my clients are as well. We love our work--even when we struggle with our jobs--and the idea of "work/life balance" strikes us as undesirable even if it were attainable.
A solution lies in the power of boundaries--a concept I find much more useful and actionable than "balance." Because we're so driven to work--and because even the best organizations will exploit this drive--it's up to us to prevent work from taking over our lives, and good boundaries are the only way to make this possible. As my former colleague Michael Gilbert wrote in 2008,
Boundaries keep things in their place. Balance suggests the same amount of two things on either side of a scale. Boundaries keep one of those things from oozing past the edge of its platter and taking over the other side... Just as functional membranes (letting the right things through and keeping the wrong things out) facilitate the healthy interaction of the cells of our bodies, so do functional personal boundaries facilitate the healthy interaction of the various parts of our lives. Bad boundaries lead to either being overwhelmed or withdrawal. Good boundaries lead to wholeness and synergy.
Good boundaries are even more important when we're working in a dysfunctional or toxic environment. We need physical boundaries that allow us to create distance between us and our work (which includes not only the office itself but also all our professional tools and artifacts--laptops, tablets, phones, papers, everything.)
We need temporal boundaries that allow us to spend time undisturbed by work obligations. Note that I'm talking not about balance but about boundaries; the amount of undisturbed time we can create for ourselves will vary--and may be quite small--but what matters is that we create and maintain a functional boundary around that time.
And we need psychic boundaries that allow us to stop thinking about work so that we can actually make effective use of the boundaries noted about. (I'm not suggesting this is easy--quite the contrary. As I've noted before, not thinking about something is difficult, particularly when we're stressed or distracted.)
3) Find Validation Elsewhere
A hallmark of a dysfunctional organization is a failure to fully recognize and validate peoples' contributions. (A truly toxic culture goes a step further and actively invalidates its members.) The challenge this poses for people like my clients and students (and for me) is that we're accustomed to performing well and being recognized for it, and when we find ourselves in an environment where this equation no longer holds, we can be slow to adapt. We assume that if we just work a little harder, do just a little better, we'll eventually be recognized for our efforts.
But this mindset is a trap--the dysfunctional organization isn't going to change, and the longer it takes us to accept this, the more we strive in vain for validation that won't be forthcoming. This dynamic can be particularly acute in elite institutions such as highly competitive schools or desirable companies. Membership in these institutions boosts our status, but our awareness that membership can be revoked creates a sense of status anxiety that makes us strive even harder.
The key is ensuring that we're being validated elsewhere in our lives. We need to be fully seen and acknowledged by people whose opinions matter to us and who are in a position to recognize our contributions. This involves not only cultivating those relationships, of course, but also being direct about asking for positive feedback--a step that many of us find daunting. And ultimately it means validating ourselves, recognizing that even when external validation is forthcoming it's inevitably insufficient as a sustainable source of happiness and fulfillment.
4) Adopt a Growth Mindset...
...and remember the fundamental attribution error. A dysfunctional organization views setbacks as the result of employees' inadequacies while failing to consider situational factors, resulting in a lack of safety and a paralyzing aversion to risk. (A truly toxic organization actively seeks to shift blame for setbacks from high-status leaders to lower-status employees, no matter who's truly at fault.)
Research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that a "growth mindset" is a critical source of strength and resilience:
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They're wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
By adopting a growth mindset, we're better able to maintain a sense of equanimity in the face of mistakes and setbacks. This isn't to suggest that we ignore our failings; on the contrary, a growth mindset allows us to devote more attention to our mistakes and learn from them more thoroughly wihout becoming obsessed or paralyzed by them.
The challenge in a dysfunctional culture is that the organization won't accept blame for any setbacks, even--and especially--when the culture itself is a contributing factor. So it's essential not to collude in this process and to remember the fundamental attribution error, a widespread cognitive bias that I first learned in business school from the outstanding Roberto Fernandez as:
Ascribing causality to personal characteristics when causality actually lies with the situation.
While it's important to take responsibility for our own contributions to an organizational setback, it's equally important to recognize the situational factors at play. By integrating this perspective with a growth mindset, we can act accountably and with integrity without undermining ourselves.
5) Speak Up
Finally, when we're struggling in a dysfunctional culture, we need to talk about it with someone; we need to speak up. I'm fully aware that speaking up often involves some risk, but so does staying silent. And the benefits of speaking up are manifold. When we speak up to a colleague, we create a safe space for ourselves within the organization, even if it's just a temporary one, and we may identify a long-term ally.
And by speaking up to anyone at all, even someone outside the organization, we accomplish two key steps: First, we affirm our right to tell our story, even if it upsets the conventional narrative. Particularly when we're enmeshed in a dysfunctional culture in an elite institution, there can be a large gap between the way our life appears to others and the way it feels to us, and it's important not to let the image disconfirm our actual experience.
Second, by speaking up we remind ourselves that we have agency and choice, even if it may not feel like it at times, and taking the small step of telling our story encourages us to take larger, bolder steps from there. We might feel emboldened to make some changes within our sphere of influence. We might seek to expand our influence by talking more directly and candidly with those around us. We might even decide to exercise our choice to leave.
If you're working in a dysfunctional environment and you found this post helpful, you might want to explore my posts on self-coaching. They're not intended to replace the experience of working with a personal coach, but my hope is that they help people who are working with a coach get even more out of the experience and provide people who lack the opportunity to work with a coach with a framework for a self-directed experience. (Note that they're also very much a work-in-progress that I'll continue to update.)
Photo by John Morgan. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
"An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage," International Association for the Study of Pain
I've been blessed with good health throughout my life, not to mention good luck. Nineteen years ago a motorcycle accident that should have mangled me resulted in nothing worse than a broken arm. A few years after that I avoided what would have been a useless lower back surgery when I realized that the increasing pain I'd been experiencing was stress-related, and a modest effort at managing my stress ended my lower back pain permanently.
But the last six weeks have been different.
I've frequently been in pain since mid-January, when I experienced what felt like a severe muscle spasm in my upper back. I've occasionally had minor spasms in my upper back over the years, typically after working out too hard, but they would always disappear after a few days of rest. This time, however, the pain didn't go away, and I developed some new (and scary) symptoms, including a sore neck, pain radiating down my right arm, tingling and numbness in my right hand and fingertips, and significant weakness on my right side.
Thankfully, when I'm highly focused--most notably in a coaching session--I lose awareness of the pain, so it hasn't prevented me from fulfilling my responsibilities to my clients and students. But it's certainly affected the rest of my life, and I feel a lot less joyful and more somber than I usually do. After taking it easy for a few weeks, my condition improved a bit but eventually plateaued, and I finally realized I needed to see a doctor.
The definition of pain above was quoted to me last week by (the fantastic) Dr. Judy Silverman of St. Mary's, who diagnosed me with a herniated disk adjacent to my C-7 vertebra, which has apparently damaged the nerves running from my spinal column to my right arm and hand, resulting in the pain, tingling and numbness. The pain improved somewhat after the initial trauma to the nerves, but it didn't go away--and the other symptoms worsened--presumably because some specific movements and body positions continued to irritate the affected nerves. Dr. Silverman and I agreed that surgery and pain medication weren't warranted, and she's referred me to physical therapy, which begins this week.
So what have I learned so far? Four thoughts come to mind:
1) I can be still--at least for a while.
In March 2009 I had perhaps the worst cold ever, and as a result I realized that, "I don't do stillness well...and perhaps I should find a way." I was sufficiently rattled by that experience that I knew I needed to make some changes, and I did. After years of half-hearted efforts, I finally got serious about meditation, and today I have a capacity for stillness--both the voluntary stillness of meditation and the enforced stillness that this injury is imposing on me--that I never had before. I continue to struggle with stillness, but at least I'm more comfortable with it than I used to be.
2) I'm better prepared for old age.
Another result of that terrible cold in 2009 was the realization that, "I'm less ready for old age--and mortality--than I thought I was." And while I'm still enjoying this existence a great deal, over the last four years I've devoted a lot of thought to death and the meaning of life, to being present and to the shortness of life, and as a result I feel much more in touch with my mortality and the impending indignities of old age than I was just four years ago.
3) I need to find (yet) another gear.
I'm someone who's always thrived on pushing myself. That's not to say I'm a joyless worker-bee--far from it. I love to work hard (at work that I love), and I love to play hard, too. My illness in 2009 taught me that I needed to learn how to be still, and I did. But two gears isn't enough, at least at this stage of my life. I'm reasonably sure that my herniated disk was the result of both A) working out harder than usual in December and early January and B) just plain working harder than usual over that same span, spending even more time writing after signing a book contract. I'll keep pushing myself, but now I need to find a third gear somewhere between Go Hard and Be Still that'll allow me to advance at a sustainable pace.
4) I'm learning the definition of pain.
The word "definition" itself has multiple meanings. It means, of course "the formal statement of the meaning or significance of a word"--as in the definition of pain quoted above--but it also means "the condition of being distinct or clearly outlined," and that's the meaning I refer to now. My wife Amy has suffered from chronic pain in her shoulder for the last four years which two difficult surgeries failed to fully resolve, and which she now manages on a day-to-day basis. My experience over the last six weeks has made it clear how little I truly understood what she's been dealing with, even as I tried to be an empathetic caregiver. As Dr. Silverman noted, I'm still in the acute phase of post-traumatic pain--it hasn't become chronic and hopefully won't. But six weeks has been long enough for me to get a sense of what it means to live with pain and to have to accept the limits that are defined by the energy and the space that the pain consumes. I'm hopeful that my PT will substantially diminish my pain, but I also hope I never forget what it's been like to have pain be such a defining feature of my life.
Photo by Harsha K R. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons
Focused attention is our most precious resource, because 1) it's extremely taxing on our intellectual and emotional capabilities, 2) it can have a amazingly powerful effect on its object, and 3) it can't be subdivided. (We can pay continuous partial attention to multiple objects simultaneously, but we can truly focus on only one object at any given moment.)
Much of what I do as a coach and as an experiential educator at Stanford involves nothing more than devoting my full attention to another person. This is somewhat easier in a one-on-one coaching session with a client or student, and it's somewhat harder in a group setting, but under any circumstances it's a challenging task that's almost always worth the effort.
Why is it challenging? Because even when we're one-on-one, we're bombarded by sensory stimuli and an endless stream of emerging thoughts and emotions that constantly draw our focus inward. The running dialogue we maintain with ourselves exerts an almost irresistible pull on our attention, and it's impossible to ever completely shut it off. And in any group setting not only does the complexity of the data stream increase exponentially, but our awareness of being observed by others who are beyond the sphere of our attention heightens our self-consciousness and adds another layer to our self-talk.
Why is it worth the effort? Because we're so rarely the object of another person's truly focused attention, devoting our full attention to someone can be a novel experience for both of us that in and of itself stimulates something useful in the interaction. The other person feels seen, heard, recognized, validated, appreciated or challenged in ways that partial attention never generates. And as we momentarily quiet our inner voice, we suddenly become aware of so many things that we missed before--not only about the other person and our environment, but also about ourselves. The subtler, more elusive thoughts and feelings that are usually drowned out by the louder currents can now be heard.
How do we do it? Three suggestions:
First, make the distinction between spending time with someone and spending attention on someone. We like to think that our time is precious, but compared to attention, time is cheap. And it's cheap because we can spend time without expending any real effort, and because continuous partial attention allows us to multi-task, flitting among low-intensity activities. So spending time with someone isn't the same thing as spending attention on them (and we're fooling ourselves if we think they won't be able to tell the difference.)
Second, respect how draining it can be to focus our attention for any length of time, and recognize our limits. Devoting our full attention to someone is hard work, and not the sort of work that can be accomplished through sheer force of will. Our reserves of attention are rapidly depleted, and that process accelerates when we're tired or stressed. Sometimes we just don't have it in us to focus our attention, and we have to learn to set boundaries and communicate them clearly and gracefully.
Third, practice. Focusing our attention, like any form of mental control, is a learnable skill. And while we can't simply force ourselves to pay attention for any sustained period, we can increase our stamina in order to pay attention for greater lengths of time and to shorten the recovery period between distractions. But note that many factors in contemporary life pull us in just the opposite direction. Entire industries have been developed to heighten our sense of distraction and keep us in a state of perpetual unrest, and we have to work actively to resist their pull.
Photo by Ed Yourdon. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons
As an executive coach and an experiential educator, every day I collaborate with or observe people giving and receiving feedback. In a number of settings I work with groups whose purpose is improving members' leadership and interpersonal skills, and the primary tool we use is feedback. And a common trait shared by almost every one of the hundreds of people I've worked with over the last eight years is a desire to hear direct, candid feedback. I literally hear people say "Give it to me straight" in almost every group.
But this simple request turns out to be more complicated than it sounds at first. Feedback is one of the most powerful—and one of the fastest—ways to learn how to be more effective in our interactions with others, particularly when it’s honest and straightforward. But effective feedback doesn’t happen spontaneously; it’s critical to learn how to give—and receive—feedback in a way that’s effective in a particular context.
What “Give it to me straight” actually means in practice will vary widely from one relationship to another, and will change within every relationship over time. And an irony I’ve observed over thousands of feedback conversations is that when we first say “Give it to me straight,” we think we’re talking about negative feedback because we imagine that criticism will be painful to hear, but it turns out that truly heartfelt positive feedback can be equally hard to handle. Many people I’ve worked with are actually more uncomfortable receiving direct, candid praise than being criticized.
Giving and receiving feedback effectively are learnable skills, and while the five concepts discussed here may serve as helpful guidelines, it’s important to recognize that we can improve our facility with these skills only by actually trying them out. We can—and should—start in low-risk situations, such as an experiential role-play, a coaching engagement or a friendly relationship. But real growth will require us to get out of our comfort zones and to risk making mistakes when the stakes are higher.
1) Feedback and Social Threat
Most of us find the prospect of a feedback conversation daunting at the best of times, even in the context of a friendly relationship. Hearing someone say “Can I give you some feedback?” is almost guaranteed to elevate our heart rate and raise our blood pressure. These are common signs of a threat response, a cascade of neurological and physiological events that occur when we encounter a situation that we perceive as threatening. Neuroscientists have determined that we respond to threatening social situations in the same way that we respond to actual threats to our physical safety and have coined the term “social threat” to describe these experiences. David Rock is an executive coach who’s made an extensive study of recent neuroscience research to understand its implications for organizational life, and he developed the SCARF Model to characterize interpersonal situations that are likely to trigger a social threat.
SCARF stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness (i.e. the extent to which we perceive others as members of our social group) and fairness. Whenever our status, certainty, autonomy or perception of fairness is diminished, we're more likely to experience a social threat. And an encounter with someone we perceive as unrelated is also more likely to trigger a social threat.
Given these factors, it’s unsurprising that a feedback conversation can be so stressful. Someone presuming to give us feedback is (at least momentarily) occupying a high-status position, and we may feel “demoted” as a result. We don’t know what feedback we’re about to get, so we’re immediately put in a state of uncertainty. Despite our discomfort, we’re likely to feel obligated to listen, so we have less autonomy. These factors are at play in almost every feedback conversation, and if we feel less connected with the other person or if we don’t believe their feedback is fair, then we’re certain to experience the conversation as a social threat.
A threat response predisposes us to act quickly on limited information, and while this classic “fight or flight” behavior is well-adapted to literal threats to our physical safety, it often serves us poorly in interpersonal situations that we perceive as threatening. When we’re in the grip of a threat response, our ability to understand complex information and respond to it thoughtfully is seriously compromised. We seize on what we believe to be the most important data and take action on that basis. While this set of responses surely served us well in our evolutionary environment, it undermines our ability to safely navigate challenging interpersonal situations—such as feedback conversations.
So when we’re preparing to give someone feedback, it’s critical to avoid triggering a social threat. Pay keen attention to the potential for any aspect of the conversation to impact the other person, including such factors as timing, duration, physical location and proximity.
2) Just Enough Emotion
Despite the risk of triggering a social threat inherent in any feedback conversation, one reason interpersonal feedback is such an effective way to learn is because it has the potential to evoke meaningful emotions in the first place. While the strong negative emotions that result from a social threat have the potential to inhibit learning and block communication, emotions play an essential role in our reasoning process. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote in his influential book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain,
[H]uman reason depends on several brain systems, working in concert across many levels of neuronal organization, rather than on a single brain center. Both "high-level" and "low-level" brain regions...cooperate in the making of reason. The lower levels in the neural edifice of reason are the same ones that regulate the processing of emotions and feelings. Emotion, feeling and biological regulation all play a role in human reason. [p xvii]
In addition, emotional experiences resonate more strongly with us and stick more effectively in our memories. As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux notes, “There is both an upside and a downside to the fact that emotional states make memories stronger. The upside is that we remember our emotional experiences to a greater extent than non-emotional ones. The downside is that we remember our emotional experiences to a greater extent than non-emotional ones.”
So while we have to guard against the risk of triggering a social threat when giving feedback, it’s essential to make effective use of emotion in any feedback conversation, and this means expressing just enough emotion ourselves to trigger sufficient emotion in the other person without going too far. If we express too much emotion, we may trigger a social threat, provoking a hostile or defensive reaction, and ending the dialogue or damaging the relationship. But if we fail to express enough emotion, we significantly diminish the impact of our feedback, resulting in an ongoing cycle of ineffective conversations.
The right balance of emotion is highly situational and will differ widely not only across interpersonal relationships but also according to the issue under discussion, the timing of the conversation, and many other factors. Our ability to find the balance that’s right for any given conversation will depend on our understanding of the other person and our relationship with them as well as on our ability to regulate and express our emotions effectively.
3) Build the Relationship
As noted above, when we feel less connected to another person, an interaction with them is more likely to trigger a social threat. When we need to give feedback to someone who differs from us—not only according to demographic categories, but also as a function of our respective roles—it’s important to be able to establish a sense of relatedness with that person to minimize the risk of social threat. And this work is much more effective when it’s done over time, across a series of interactions, rather than in a desperate—and transparent—attempt to soften the blow before delivering critical feedback.
John Gottman, a social psychologist who’s one of the world’s leading researchers on marriage and relationships, notes that the likelihood of a successful conclusion to a difficult conversation is critically dependent on what he calls “the quality of the friendship” in the relationship, and he defines friendship by the existence of seven factors:
1. Feeling known by the other person.
2. A “culture of appreciation” that nurtures mutual fondness, admiration and respect.
3. Sensitivity and responsiveness to even the most minor bids for attention.
4. The degree of mutual influence.
5. Accepting that some problems are intractable and can’t be solved right now.
6. An awareness that inside those intractable problems is often a deeply personal dream, and a willingness to share those dreams.
7. The creation of shared meaning.
Gottman’s research focuses on married couples and others in committed partnerships, and I’m not suggesting that our working relationships need to rise to that level of intimacy to be successful. But I am suggesting that Gottman’s guidelines for gauging “the quality of the friendship” apply to any relationship, and that they can direct us in our efforts to connect with others, particularly when we’re working across role boundaries and other dimensions of difference.
Finally, Gottman’s research also shows that the ratio of positive to negative interactions in a successful relationship over time is 5:1, even during periods of conflict. This ratio doesn’t apply to a single conversation, nor does it mean that we’re obligated to pay someone five compliments before we can criticize them. But it does emphasize the importance of positive feedback over time as a means of building a successful relationship. (Note that we can run into problems with positive feedback as well.)
4) Play Fair
A certain way to derail a feedback conversation is to trigger a social threat (and a subsequent defensive or hostile reaction) by providing feedback that the other person perceives as unfair or inaccurate. The difficulty is that the concepts of “fair” and “accurate” are inherently subjective. In Chapter 2 of The Interpersonal Dynamics Reader [PDF], David Bradford and Mary Ann Huckabay use the metaphor of “the net” to explain this dynamic:
Most of us act like amateur psychologists in that we try to figure out why others act as they do. If you interrupt me (a behavior) and I feel annoyed (the effect on me), I try and understand why you would do that. So I make an attribution of your motives (it must be that you are inconsiderate)…
As common as this attribution process is, it also can be dysfunctional. Note that my sense-making is a guess. That is my hunch as to why you act the way you do. I am “crossing over the net” from what is my area of expertise (that I am annoyed at your behavior), to your area of expertise (your motives and intentions). My imputation of your motives can always be debated, (“You don't listen.” “Yes, I do.” “No you don't.”) whereas sticking with my own feelings and reactions is never debatable. ( “I felt irritated by your interruption just now.” “You shouldn't feel that way because I didn't mean to interrupt you.” “Perhaps not, but I feel irritated nonetheless.” ) [pp 4-5, emphasis added]
As Bradford and Huckabay make clear, by “crossing the net” and guessing at the other person’s motives and intentions, we succeed in creating a plausible explanation that helps us understand their behavior, but we run the risk of being wrong. Even if we guess right in most circumstances—and we typically do—the challenge in the context of a feedback conversation is that the cost of being wrong is triggering a social threat in the other person and derailing the conversation.
The solution identified by Bradford and Huckabay is to “stay on our side of the net” and stick with what we know for certain—our response to the observed behavior—and avoid making any guesses about the other person’s motives and intentions. This minimizes the risk that our feedback will be perceived as unfair or inaccurate.
5) Give It To Me Straight?
While an increased emphasis on interpersonal feedback in many groups and organizations can provide us with more opportunities to test and improve our abilities to give and receive feedback effectively, it can also have some unintended consequences. A “feedback-rich” culture can be one in which people feel compelled to participate in feedback conversations even when they’re not truly prepared to do so. Feedback givers can feel an unjustified sense of authority and objectivity, failing to realize that feedback says as much about the giver (what we notice, what we comment upon, how we say it) as it does about the recipient. Feedback recipients can feel obligated to change in response to critical feedback, even when it conflicts with their better judgment.
So while I’m a confirmed believer in the benefits of feedback, I also encourage people to stop and think carefully when stepping into a feedback conversation, particularly before responding to a request to “Give it to me straight.” While it’s important to provide honest and direct feedback in response to such a request, it’s also important to consider the overall context—including the surrounding group or organizational culture—in order to meet such a request effectively.
Update/Postscript: I'm reminded of my recent comment to Whitney Johnson: "At the heart of every piece of critical feedback is a dream of a better way to interact with each other." This helps explain my emphasis on the emotional aspects of feedback conversations--when we're unhappy or upset with someone and want them to change, the purpose of any critical feedback we might deliver is to turn that "dream of a better way of interacting" into reality. But if we simply "give it to them straight" and fail to effectively manage the emotions evoked by the conversation--either by repressing them or by venting them full-force--we're much less likely to achieve that goal.
Thanks to Carole Robin, David Bradford, Mary Ann Huckabay and Scott Bristol for introducing me to many of these concepts and for the opportunity to explore them further while working with them at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Photo by rick. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.