We’re a bunch of cowards. Every single one of us. At least, if I give an example from the other evening, when I discovered that little green thing stuck between my teeth when I looked in the mirror at the end of a long day. Not a lot of spinach, but enough to make my smile look ridiculous – with the teeth of a Halloween ghoul. And, to top it off, I had the spinach for lunch – say, six hours ago? How many people had I smiled at, talked with, and exposed this monstrosity to?
Luckily, some people are braver. The other day, I put on a decent black office dress with a zip at the back; I was going to see a client that is more corporate than most here in Singapore (where even bankers don’t necessarily wear three-piece suits or the female equivalent). After having travelled halfway through town with the zip half open, a colleague kindly pointed out that I was unzipped and helped me pull it up. Thanks, Sharala!
What can we learn from this in the context of management? That giving unpleasant feedback is difficult: it takes a lot of courage.
I’ve pondered about the spinach-between-your-teeth-but-too-embarrassed-to-point-it-out phenomenon for a while. I even swore several years ago that every time someone talked to me with something between their teeth – whether it be vegetable, fruit, or anything else – I’d point it out.
BUT. Then, one time, someone was talking to me and I could not bring myself to say, “You have something…” and point in the direction of the speck. Which is really enough; you don’t even have to say the whole thing out loud. However, that day, I was too much of a coward, and I left it. I left it at having the person look ridiculous for hours, probably until he looked at himself in the mirror that evening. What’s worse is that his thoughts probably went back to all those people that he’d interacted with over the day, and who didn’t even tell him. He’d probably thought about me, too, and how much of a coward I was.
Thinking back, I wish we could have gone through that little awkward moment together of “you have something…” whilst pointing to the teeth, which would have resulted in the two of us having built a stronger relationship based on trust. But I was too much of a coward.
My 2017 New Year resolution is to tell people when they have spinach between their teeth, when their zips are undone, and when there is a white string stuck on their backsides. There are people who have no fear facing sharks or climbing the highest mountains, but being faced with 0.01 grams of spinach transforms them into a total coward.
It’s the same with giving feedback at the office. There are things we all do that we are blind to. We all do things, the effects to which we are oblivious. And if we start seeing feedback as a chance to grow, we’d all be better off.
The principles about feedback are simply, and nearly always, easy to adhere to.
When receiving feedback, appreciate the fact that someone actually cares enough about you so you don’t walk around with spinach between your teeth all day long.
When giving feedback, see it in the light of being the mirror of the person you’re talking to. They don’t want to wait until the evening to see the spinach between their teeth.
It’s about how you provide and accept the feedback.