Mary has just come from a meeting with Alex, a relatively new member of her team, where she watched Alex deliver a short presentation. Mary wants to seize the “coachable moment” and give him some feedback on his performance. From her point of view, the presentation went fairly well. That said, it would have been much better had Alex prepared handouts for everyone.
It’s been said that we can send a message around the world in a seventh of a second, but getting it through a quarter inch of human skull can take much longer. In this case, one little word can derail all of Mary’s good intentions.
The word is but.
Mary has two thoughts she wants to convey.
- She wants him to know the presentation went well.
- She also wants to suggest he prepare handouts the next time for even better results.
If she’s mindful, she’ll avoid a common mistake many of us make when we give feedback like this: she’ll avoid using the word “but” between the two thoughts. She won’t say, “That was a good presentation, but it would have been more effective if you’d brought handouts for everyone.”What’s so wrong with that?
It’s not inaccurate, it’s not mean-spirited, and it’s certainly not rude. It’s just not as effective as it could be. What will Alex actually hear once that message penetrates his skull?
Your presentation wasn’t very good, because you should have brought handouts! As soon as he hears the word “but” he will discount the first half of her message.
What could she have said?
The most important consideration when giving feedback is delivering it in such a way that it “lands” easily. When you want to offer feedback that contains both good news (the presentation went well) and room for improvement (you might consider preparing handouts for the next one), use the word “and” between the two pieces of information. This overcomes the tendency of most people to react to such feedback by discounting the first half of the message.
So, Mary could say, “That presentation was pretty darn effective, Alex. I liked the way you organized the material, and I have a suggestion. Next time, consider having handouts for everyone.”
Think I’m making too much of one little word?
Try it yourself. The next three times you have feedback about something that you feel both positive about and have a suggestion or two for improvement, practice inserting the word “and” between the two thoughts. See for yourself whether your feedback lands well. I’m betting it will.
Oh, and one more thing. However is just a three syllable synonym for but. Don’t try to finesse it. Just make the substitution and you’ll be far more effective sending your message. Once you get in the habit of changing “but” to “and,” you will get more messages to penetrate that quarter inch of skull, and they’ll take your suggestions for improvement more readily.
It’s harder to lead if people don’t hear what you’re really saying!