When you are Giving Feedback, is your Message really Getting Through?

Giving FeedbackGiving feedback to your direct reports can lead to misunderstanding if you are not careful about the language you use to suit the person for whom it is intended. Here is an example of what I mean.

Last week I was asked this question during an on-line broadcast…. “How can someone’s style of speaking get in the way of giving accurate feedback to a direct report?” This was in response to my comment that the type of language we use to communicate with each other can often get in the way of the meaning we intend, especially if the person to whom we are talking has a different style of processing information to us.

To illustrate my point here is a simple example utilising just two of the 48 language patterns or ‘filters’ that everyone has running unconsciously whenever they communicate.

These two patterns are regarding ‘scope.’ At one end of the spectrum is a pattern called “Breadth Orientation.” It’s fairly self explanatory. Someone who is extremely high in ‘Breadth Orientation,’ is someone who prefers to work with and think from an overview or ‘big picture’ point of view. Their preference is to approach tasks and issues from a global perspective, and the language that they use will reflect that preference.

There are no prizes for guessing what type of thinking and processing lies at the other end of the spectrum…“Depth Orientation.”  This pattern is reflected in someone who needs to work with details and exact sequences of events. They will always want to receive specific information and having detailed knowledge is the most motivating for them.

Now of course not all individuals are at one end of the spectrum or the other, but I have witnessed this often enough to know that it can have a huge impact on communication and understanding in the workplace. In fact I remember a previous article I wrote some months ago where there were two members of a team who were the polar opposites in Breadth and Depth Orientation and the hilarious differences that they demonstrated when each was describing his favourite holiday to the rest of the team members. Here is that link FYI… You are a Walking Talking Signpost of Clues at Work but did you Know it?

Anyway, back to the point I wish to make.

Helicopter ViewImagine if you are a leader for whom the ‘Big Picture’ or the helicopter view is the predominant scope that you bring to all of your thinking and ‘modus operandi.’ In most cases and at your level of engagement as a leader, this most probably serves you in the work that you do. Now imagine too, that you have just given feedback or advice to a direct report about his/her performance on a critical project that is currently consuming everyone’s time and energy. You believe that your chat went well with this team member and you don’t give it any further thought once the discussion has ended.

But did it? That might depend on whether the recipient of your message has a preference for ‘big picture’ thinking like you or not. If, on the other hand, their scope of thinking is firmly rooted in the detail (especially if this is the particular focus they bring to the project as part of their specialisation), then chances are that they will walk away from that discussion feeling confused because for them your feedback seemed too vague and ‘sweeping’ in its approach. Remember – this might not actually be the case, but it may be how they are perceiving it.

Magnifying Glass and StampOr alternatively, imagine if you are a leader for whom detail is paramount in all of your work, and your scope of thinking and communicating reflects that preference. What if the feedback you have just given was to a direct report who has a strong ‘filter’ running unconsciously from the ‘Big Picture’ point of view. Once again, you walk away from the discussion believing that things went well, however at the other end of the conversation the individual on the receiving end is left feeling that your approach was far too ‘nit-picky’ for his/her liking. What he/she would have preferred was for you to paint the ‘Big Picture’ of what was needed to change or happen, and leave them to follow through accordingly. Once again, this might not be how you feel you communicated things, but because of your style of approach and their unconscious interpretation, this is how the miscommunication or misrepresentation has played out between the two of you.

It’s as if you are speaking Chinese to the Frenchman, even though you were both conversing in English!

As I said earlier, misunderstandings like this happen far more frequently in the workplace than we think it does often due to the different filters that each person brings to their ‘model of the world.’ This is why whenever a leadership coach is first engaged to work with a team of executives, invariably the number one topic on the agenda is regarding improving the communication between all of the players in the team.

Next time you are in conversation with any of your colleagues or direct reports try to focus on the type of language they are using in their discussion. It may give you some indication at which scope or level they are thinking. If you happen to notice what their particular filter is, then consider how best to communicate with them at that level. You may find that it increases both the understanding and the influence you have with them.

Drop me an email to brian@precisionprofiling.com.au if you would like to know more about how to develop greater understanding with your people.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less.  Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling What Makes You Tick?  Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

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