Feedback and Needs

Couple of months ago Eric Proegler mentioned on a PSL related Slack discussion something he learned from Jerry Weinberg:

In my session, I asked a question about how to communicate feedback, and Jerry countered that people “providing” feedback were essentially communicating their needs, not really “helping” the person receiving the feedback

This has been brewing in my head since then. In order to dive a bit deeper with it, I decided to write a blog post.

“Don’t cut in line”

I was watching my son (just turned 6 years old) trying out floorball a while ago couple times. That didn’t turn out to be something he wanted to continue, but there was one incident that I still remember. They formed a queue while practicing and one by one moved the ball to center of the field and tried to shoot to goal. My son isn’t always listening (or acknowledging) that carefully instructions. Which is why he couple times cut the line and went straight to middle of the queue or first. Quite quickly one of the other kids said to him “Don’t cut in line” and that pretty much ended that session for my son as his mood went down. We ended up going once more to trying out the floorball but he didn’t want to play it anymore. Difficult to say if he would’ve wanted to even if that incident had not happen.

While floorball didn’t end up being something my son got interested about, I personally thought it was also a good experience for him as he faced a situation where someone is giving feedback. This will definitely happen in future and he needs to find ways for handling the feedback. Related to this particular incident, I mentioned that he shouldn’t take that feedback in a way that he did something wrong. I explained that he hadn’t participated that much to those practices that it was inevitable that he would do things differently from others.

But the biggest “Aha!” moment I got when I realized that that situation was similar to what Eric said. Based on my understanding, other kid wasn’t trying to help my son, he was trying to communicate his needs.

Don’t cut in line could translate to I want to move the ball and shoot it

This doesn’t mean naturally that this is only reason for providing the feedback. It could be also affected by history where other kids have often cut in line in case of this kid. 

Feedback from a colleague

In working context, colleague once mentioned that I’m leading meetings we were having, despite him being the facilitator there. That’s something that could’ve ended up into a debate – but I understood that he had a need of being able to contribute to the meeting and I was taking it a way by jumping in and leading the meeting when there was a bit of silence. It did help me. But only after I shook away the defense mechanism and focused on understanding the person giving the feedback. What’s funny though, I was also trying to contribute. But when I did contribute (in a way I knew the best), colleague wasn’t able to.

Different perspective

While I acknowledge that there can be situations where this thought doesn’t apply, I also think that perhaps the biggest benefit comes from being able to cope feedback better. In past I’ve struggled with receiving feedback. You get that awkward feeling in your stomach when someone is giving feedback related to your performance. The risk of being defensive is present and it’s hard to handle the situation in a way that meets better the needs of the person that’s giving the feedback. Or to improve yourself as a person based on the feedback.

These days when I receive feedback, I’m not being that defensive anymore. Instead I (try to) listen carefully to understand what’s the difference between expectations and reality. And more importantly, I try to understand what pain is the person, providing the feedback, experiencing. How could I reduce that pain?