I am in the mood for an argument.
Yes, I want to pick a fight…slightly aggressive I know, but you know that feeling you have sometimes that things just aren’t right, that there is an injustice happening, a wrong that needs to be righted?
…Well this happens to me a lot, it happened last week it happened yesterday and then again today and will no doubt reappear tomorrow, and well…. I have just about had enough.
There, said it.
My name is Carl and I think I have a problem. I think I might just be addicted to the truth.
…and honestly, I am really fed up with the trouble this can get me into.
Whether it’s the moment I spend trying to dig myself out of a hole after offering feedback on someones big idea only to be met by the sad face, you know the sad face…the one that looks through you, as both of you are suddenly transport back to their school playground moment.
That moment when they were not picked for the game of chase, the moment when little Jane didn’t invite them to the party or when their teenage crush confided in them they have fallen for their best friend. That moment when you see the child in the adult, the lip wobble the brow furrow, the dry eye divert to return momentarily with a tear. …and it’s the moment you both hate.
I hate feedback sometimes.
..and yet I also love it with a passion…which is precisely what makes me so frustrated!!!
Throughout my career I have tried to be honest in my views and value feedback as a gift…all fashioned perhaps through principled parenting, lapsed Catholic rhetoric, and my earliest working experience of great first manager who imprinted on me that honest feedback was the “breakfast of champions” (thanks Fiona!) and this stuck with me all these years.
But why does honest feedback so often get me into trouble?
Why do I do it? …
and why does it sometimes feel so bad?
I have given these questions some thought…to find some answers ..and if you can spare me a few moments I would like to share them with you, if that’s ok.
My first thought….was maybe it’s an emotional intelligence thing right? Maybe I just don’t read situations or individuals too well?
A safe thought yes, but not really good enough.
No, Here’s the thing, the truth (here I go again) is that I have pretty much known everytime that an honest assessment could lead to a negative reaction , I knew it before I opened my mouth , I have usually sensed the risk before the message , that what comes from me next might hurt initially , I saw it arriving countless times in the eyes in those conversations. Emotionally speaking…I knew what I was doing. It’s always been a conscious choice to call out what I see.
So, maybe this is all about my ego – a need to always be seen as right? A power thing?…well, quite possibly, I do have an ego, I know that much and I have learned enough so far to appreciate that those who really believe they don’t have one, their own statue to polish, usually can’t see its size because they are sat on it, as a general rule I try be wary of advice from such people – some of the most distorted views of the world can be gained from those in the highest of seats.
But if my desire to tell the truth was just about my self esteem based in the views of others – why do I offer feedback in situations where I do know people will actively think less of me, at least initially, giving them a chisel to dismantle my statue there and then or in the corridors with others at a later date? No I don’t honestly think telling the truth, for me is an ego thing.
Ok…we need to nail this, so…I must just be cruel, right?
A possibility I guess. Maybe I like to see other people squirm a little when I point out the flaw in logic, the hole in the boat, the cocoa melt on a warmed chocolate teapot idea. I guess it’s nice to feel a little superior sometimes, right?
Well we are getting warmer here, but not hot enough to melt any chocolate, as truthfully…I really don’t enjoy seeing people upset, I hate it in fact, like you, I can find it quite disturbing, but at the same time… I do believe its sometimes its a necessary evil, a process to be worked through and not an end in itself.
So no, I can’t accept that, honest feedback for me, isn’t just a power trip.
So what then?
We need to know now, we both have things to do…so to cut to the chase…
Actually… The reason why I am addicted to the truth is pretty simple….I just like to fix things.
If I see or hear something flawed, something I think, or hope I can possibly help mend, my mouth opens and I just pitch in. I am a Fixer.
Ok, I am still learning that not everything needs fixing, and more importantly not everyone needs saving (Google the “Drama Triangle” if you need convincing of this) no, not everyone drowning wants a coach…. certainly not one who just shouts from the bank to tell them to swim faster, lift their head or correct their stroke….irregardless of good intent.
But I do like people around me to perform at a higher capability level than they have before- because for me, the real addictive high is seeing someone genuinely proud of what they have done.
That moment when potential is overshadowed by actual performance…when you, they and others are surprised by what they just did. The wow moment. That career memory banked
But as any Fixer will tell you…for every high there can quickly follow a low, when a fixer can’t fix where the help isn’t wanted, where truthful feedback is just seen as interference.
After such moments I admit I have occasionally considered a darker truth ….that maybe if ‘telling it how it is’ brings such a sting, then maybe, just maybe I should learn how to lie better as it certainly appears to be the far more popular option to tell a tale or two.
You know, like we regularly see others do….not big lies of course , just ones big enough to acknowledge effort above results. You know the sort of thing, small fibs, small but big enough in the moment to make someone feel good about their work or thinking that the room knows falls well short of the mark. Their mark.
Little lies like “Ok that’s fantastic, lets just take this offline ” (truth translation “really your idea is unworkable”) or “excellent, but let’s not discuss the detail here” (translation : “you really haven’t thought this through have you?”). No, instead I offer normally a pregnant pause, a gentle sigh and that need to give a frank and honest view just kicks in…. And I tell them how it is.
Sometimes I really can create car crash moments without a car. It’s clearly a gift.
So should Leaders always have in their pocket the sort of lie that makes them positive and popular people to work for?… the sort of lie that allows them the time to come back and completely reprogramme the moment at a later date.?
Yes, this is exactly what great leadership skill is..all about….the ability to make people feel good about less than satisfactory performance, because we can always help them later. Right?
Actually, what I just said was my first lie today. Wow, this truth avoidance stuff really isn’t so hard is it?
Popularity doesn’t pay for principles, principles pay their own way.
Popularity led Leadership is poor leadership. It lacks principle, it lacks integrity
It’s simply not accountable.
For me principled feedback has a truthful purpose -to help someone learn and improve.
Feedback is not Feelgood.
Feedback is not Feelgreat
Feedback should be FULLsome,
… FULL of insight, FULL of truth , FULL of great intent for great future results
Surely, the moment we place our desire to feel liked or popular above the need to truly help a colleague in need then we just add to the problem.
Ok, let’s be clear – I am certainly not advocating public floggings, a return to town square stocks or warmed tar and feathers, when half baked ideas are floated.
No, principled feedback is not about crushing and cruelty.
But it is about truth and my truthful learning so far is great feedback is indeed a full some gift, and one best delivered privately, sincerely at a time and place both parties will appreciate.
So, when I now encounter those chocolate teapots ideas in public, I have learned better to check and not crush…but I will make the point that I have some issues with the thought and would like to explore it further. I find this allows the individual to choose whether they want a “fix” or not with a debate in public or a chat later in private, in essence giving them control of the time and place.
Ok, this approach still doesn’t still win any popularity contests, but it does meet my personal standard, and for me this definitely is a principled price worth paying.
Ok, I feel better now, thanks for helping me through this.You were great by the way, but before you go, if this article offered you something of note , well that’s just great, maybe you could spare a moment today or tomorrow to pay the principle forward and offer someone you know and care about at home or work some Fullsome feedback. That could be marvellous.
Equally, if this ramble offered you little, well that’s ok, too , as we both know at least one person here who would genuinely appreciate being ‘Fixed’ with your feedback.