Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Pretending that you don't see the spinach in your friend's teeth and letting them go the rest of the day grossing everyone out is just not nice. But often we debate whether or not to tell them. Hey- it's awkward and embarrassing, right?
If we tend to struggle here, we seem to struggle even more with giving meaningful feedback to those we work with. So why are we sometimes reluctant to point out the "spinach in the teeth" behavior that’s grossing everyone out at work?
I’ve found that most people really don’t see how they’re impacting other people and making them miserable. Just like “spinach in the teeth”, it’s hard to know it’s there unless someone points it out. And it takes someone being kind enough to tell them it’s there before they can decide to own the behavior, make a change, and grow. So where do you start? Here are a few tips from agile performance management that my teams have found helpful:
What’s your motive?
Are you providing the feedback to help this person, or are you looking to win a fight? Will this person believe that you’re trying to help? If it’s a debate you’re looking for, that’s not feedback. Make sure your intentions are positive.
Prepare- but not too much.
Before delivering feedback, be ready with a clear statement of the feedback including a specific situation and the behavior you’ve observed. You should also have an idea of the impact the behavior is having. A solid prepared feedback statement is short, specific, contains a real life example, and ends in a “tell me” or a question. You should not prepare a bunch of suggestions on how the person should change or “fix” the problem.
Here’s a good example of prepared feedback:
“In yesterday’s call with a Client, you interrupted me as I was explaining the details of our proposal. It made me feel like you didn’t trust that I could deliver the message. I think it gave the Client the impression that we’re not on the same page and that I’m not a key owner of the proposal. Can you help me understand why you interrupted me?”
Talk and then listen.
Try to keep it informal. Once you've found a moment alone, ask if it would be OK to share some feedback. Assuming you get a green light, deliver your prepared feedback and then be quiet. You can ask some questions to understand the other person’s perspective, but don’t offer suggestions or solutions right away. Asking questions first is a great way to learn more about what’s going on. And you don’t need to agree with the other person's perspective, but you should be able to explain it back to them.
Let it go and assume the best.
You can’t force someone to remove the spinach from their teeth- all you can do is point it out. Even if it doesn’t seem like your feedback was accepted, as long as your motive was in the right place, most of time it'll sink in. Eventually. So even if it doesn’t seem like you got the resolution you were looking for in the moment, it’s much kinder to try to help someone see the behavior that’s creating problems for others and ultimately themselves.
Pretending you don’t see the “spinach in the teeth” behavior of a co-worker isn’t kind. It’s actually the opposite. So be brave. Be honest. Be kind. Give feedback!