Can I give you some feedback? And other ways to not offer ideas

Here are some tips for better collaboration

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

Have you ever heard the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” Did you want to say “No” immediately? Did your fight-or-flight reflex go into hyper mode? If so, you are not alone. Framing feedback with that question starter has a neurologically negative impact.

In “SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others,” Dr. David’s Rock article in NeuroLeadership Journal, he states: “In most people, the question ‘Can I offer you some feedback?’ generates a similar response to hearing fast footsteps behind you at night. Performance reviews often generate status threats, explaining why they are often ineffective at stimulating behavioral change.”

“Can I give you some feedback?” is in most cases followed by “You might want to think about….” or “Something to consider could be…” and, given that you have just upped someone’s blood pressure with the initial inquiry, it might not be a great place to begin.

Offering a suggestion is tricky business, so here a few ideas to make your suggestion be something that another person can hear.

(Next page: Better ways to offer feedback)

1) Start in a different way than “Can I give you some feedback?” Offer a positive statement about the behaviors you have witnessed already and extend their good work with another option or a possibility to consider or a possible next step. Starting with an acknowledgement of someone else’s expertise, positive action, or behavior that is helpful in the present allows someone to experience themselves as capable in the present. You have a better chance to be heard from the perspective, “This person believes I am already good. Now I will hear something that might help me get even better.”

2) The words “option,” “consider,” and “possible” are all suggestive words. They offer ideas that the other person might take in or not. They don’t demand or require anything of the individual and he or she can play with the ideas and alternatives, but not be required to do them. These words are authentically suggestive in intent.

3) Don’t fake a suggestion. Many educators in administrative roles try to be supportive of their colleagues and don’t want to direct them by stating something is a mandate, so they suggest that “It would be great if…” or “You might want to think about,” when it is an absolute that they do so. If something is a mandate, non-negotiable, a must, or a requirement, don’t offer a suggestion. It confuses the listener.

Suggestions have to be honest offers of ideas and not inauthentic directives put in nice language. Suggest something and leave it there. It is the listener’s prerogative to pick it up as a next step or not. If you offer it with positive intent and put trust in your colleague to make good decisions, your suggestions have a better chance of being heard.

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