How could I tell you…
During the last months I have been working intensively with groups around giving feedback. First and foremost to allow people to give even more positive feedback. But also to bring up and talk about the things that bother them, without hurting your relationship in the process. I have noticed that it’s a struggle for employees as well as for employers. And even outside the workplace it isn’t always evident, towards your friends, your partner, your children, your parents, your neighbors, your sport club,…
I am most often asked the ‘how’-question: ‘How do I tell my colleague that something is bothering me?’. It might be something very Flemish to avoid direct communication about something negative. In some other cultures it isn’t that big of a deal. Most of the time we are scared of the consequences. That the other might feel hurt, or that he or she will be angry, and you might not be able to walk through the same door anymore. Sure enough our participants found out that that was not the case.
If something bothers you, just say it
If you think about it, it’s pretty weird that we don’t discuss our frustrations or small annoyances. We keep it inside, and in the worst case scenario we dump it on our partner and even on the children. “Do you know what happened again today??”, is what you’re telling at home. And all this time your colleague doesn’t have a clue. Your colleague can’t read minds. And your irritation is only getting bigger, up until the point that it starts eating away at you. “Not talking about what bothers you in a relationship, is like taking poison yourself and hoping the other will die”. Grasp the nettle!
But how shall I say it?
The way you apply it, asks for a bit of technique. There are useful feedback techniques that can you put you on your way. My rule of thumb: if you speak from the heart and speak your truth, and you don’t put all possible sins on the other, then you could say just about anything. Be honest, talk truthfully about your experience and also what you would like instead. Your goal is not to ‘hit’ the other, your goal is a better collaboration or coexistence.
Choose your battles…
Do you have to talk about everything that bothers you then? Thankfully no. The goal is not to put all your tiny annoyances on the table. People are not served with a stream of criticism. That in itself is bothersome. Choose if it is sufficiently important for you. Something is important if it eats away at your happiness, if it keeps you busy, if it blocks you, if it becomes a burden. Be brave enough to articulate that, why it bothers you, how it makes you feel. Participants asked me why this is necessary. Because it shows importance in the relationship. If you say ‘I don’t like this’, then I might not fully hear you. Oké, not nice for you, and for me, but isn’t something that will make me take action. Do you tell me instead that you’re bothered by me, or that I have disappointed you, or that I fail to meet my appointments, then I’m all ears. Because I really don’t want this to happen. So be honest about the way you feel. And only do that when it’s really important to you. In all other cases: take deep breaths.
And then arrives the big difficulty: when are you too rude? When is it too much? I’ve noticed that it can be a matter of personal preference. What one person might find rude, might be clear for another. What one calls assertive, the other calls aggressive. Those are also things you can give each other feedback on. That maybe you could be a bit les heated, or that if feels quite accusatory and if it’s meant that way.