Empathetic Collaboration - A Series on Creating Caring Teams
Posted on 24th November 2020
Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much. - Helen Keller
Have you ever worked with a team you were so close to that you treated them like family (maybe you’re a part of one now)? This type of relationship is often built around trust. You can be honest and open with each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and challenge one another; healthy conflict is welcome. This dynamic amongst teams doesn't happen by accident; they take a lot of hard work from everyone involved. This series is about the human side of collaboration. In it, I want to shake up some of the myths about teamwork and talk honestly about the challenges of working with people you may not have chosen to be with and who could have very different personalities from you.
Part one – Feedback
“I love feedback – bring it on, it’s important to know where you are going wrong so you can put things right, really!”
Sorry but I just don’t buy it even though I have heard this so many times from people who then go on to get defensive and upset by any feedback they get (especially from me).
Come on let’s be honest, we all hate getting feedback even if we accept that it can be useful. Receiving feedback can be difficult for us because we naturally have a negativity bias that roots from our ancestors; this means our brains are wired to react to negative stimuli. Originally, this was essential for survival and sensing an attack would trigger our natural default to a fight or flight response, causing us to react much quicker and instinctively to what we perceive to be dangerous. This fear comes from a time when we were part of a hunter-gatherer society and totally dependent on the group for survival, so constructive feedback (a perceived attack) can trigger a response to danger.
In spite of this, we need to find a way to be open, honest and react positively to criticism with our team members. Otherwise, we may exhibit passive aggressive behaviour where we exhibit indirect anger to our team members. The answer is to feed forward instead, please don’t roll your eyes when I say this. Bear with me as I promise you that this will make perfect sense, so when we feedback we focus on what happened, what went wrong, what didn’t work etc and that’s why we get defensive or upset, it feels like blame. Feed forward is focused on how things can be put right, learnt from and improved – let me give you an example
Feedback – “Manish you are always so disorganised and last minute, it’s stressing me out”
What is wrong with this? First of all, it’s judgmental (always/disorganised) and secondly, it’s about what happened rather than what you want to happen.
Feed forward – “Manish we work quite differently, it would really help me if you could let me know how you’re doing on a project so I don’t stress out, and can leave you to get on with it”
This is formative, helpful and supportive and has no judgments, this sort of feedback changes the culture of a working relationship and makes collaboration easier and more successful.
Be careful If you're frustrated, angry or disappointed and you’re giving feedback to get back at someone, it will come across loud and clear. If you squeeze an orange what do you get? Juice! humans are the same, squeeze us and the true intent comes out. Deal with these emotions first or express them openly. Otherwise, you will create the bad feeling you were hoping to avoid.
Have a little practice - turn the following feedback into feed forward: -
Feedback “You always have too many slides in your presentation with too much information on each slide and I saw some of the audience zone out last time you presented.”
Feed forward …………………..
Feedback – “When we go on meetings together you never contribute and leave it all up to me”
Feed forward …………………
Are you ready for a challenge?
Decide on some feedback you need to deliver to someone in your workplace, it can be someone in your team or another team or your boss. Focus on one specific area for improvement. First of all, write down how you will say it in a feed forward manner, read it out and keep refining it until it sounds right. Now go give your feedback, it’s definitely preferable to do this face to face, but if you work remotely, you could do this on a video call even by email. Be careful with email however as text can be misunderstood and it’s there forever so go over it at first and possibly get a second opinion from someone you won’t be sending the message to.
It's really worth practicing this skill as it will make you the sort of team member or leader that everyone respects, you have the courage to speak up but you do it in an empathetic, constructive and helpful way and as an added bonus this can change your life if you learn how to do it with your family, trust me!
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