It's Not You (Or Them)

How do you talk with someone on your team about a mistake without making them feel defensive? The skill is being able to bring your feedback in context — not so much the words you use but the place from which they come. It's simpler than it sounds. Think of one person at work you need to go talk to. Run through these questions in your mind before you do.

  • Who am I to this person? Am I their boss, their peer, or do I work for them? Context informs tone.
  • What is their current ability to hear what I have to say?  How much tension was there between us before this latest thing?
  • Where is the best setting for this conversation? Within earshot of others? Almost never.
  • When is the right moment to initiate it? Probably not right after it happened. But before the end of the day.
  • How can I say this in a way that owns my contribution (or possible contribution) before making an observation about theirs? "I realize that I didn't _____, but I still need to say  _______"
  • Which is my current motivation: to be right, or to be real?

Being able to name and navigate these background dynamics is the most effective way to create a personal work environment — by, paradoxically, depersonalizing frustration and conflict.

Do they have a contribution to the stuck dynamic? Do you? What about the culture you're both a part of?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Jonathan Raymond