Feb 4, 2009

Feedback - Avoid Making Others Defensive

My Monday post dealt with the Dead Man Rule, and the nuances of behavior.

This post focuses on how to provide feedback in a manner that allows you to influence behavior, which in the long run will result in changing attitudes (and culture if part of an organization).

In order to change behavior, we need to provide feedback that is Soon, Certain, and Positive. It is only human nature to take the path that is easiest for us. When we are dealing with safety issues, it is more convenient to not wear a scratched face shield, or to not seek out safety goggles/glasses (have you ever worked with power tools at home without wearing safety glasses ???). While the consequence of an injury is large, the probability is low, and so we often will take risks.

For us to influence behavior, we need to reinforce the positive behaviors we encounter, and to present the at-risk behaviors in a positive way.

The natural question is, how do you present at risk behaviors positively? [pause while I wait for you to ask the question. Tapping foot patiently :o) ]

I am glad that you inquired. Use of the 4 C's will tackle this dilemma.
  • Communicate the at-risk behavior that your observed.
  • Check for the individuals understanding [motivation or ability issue]
  • Coach for improved performance.
  • Contract for corrected behavior.

The premise here is that our feedback is provided in a positive manner, and we do not use phrases that set people on the defensive. When we provide feedback, we need to avoid using words that will ignite defensive reactions [I understand vs. You, I appreciate vs. That's Wrong]. The best way to explain this is to focus on the behavior and not the individual.

How do you do that? If you want to talk to someone about things that bother you, the best advice is what Dr. Phil says, "It ain't about YOU". If you are coaching or providing feedback, seek to attempt to avoid the use of the work "you". This will result in a discussion about the behavior, and not be perceived as a personal attack. This works wonders with teenagers, co-workers, and even spouses :o)


  1. Thats the fine art in communication that I believe to be one of the most difficult. Since people are generally self protective of themselves, anytime we enter the feedback, bother, improvement zone we risk hurt feelings or offending. Your ideas are solid and hopefully I'll get to test them out sometime today~~ Probably on the teens of mine

  2. I think Rebecca is right--some people are so naturally defensive that anything you say makes them get their hackles up. THAT is hard to deal with! But in general, people will understand that they, personally, aren't being attacked, and this is good advice on how to get that across.


  3. uhhh..yeah...you mean go at it like a coach..
    this stuff is good (list) and this stuff..will kill you...right?
    p.s what did you make of Dirk's post and Tom's post? please let me know..thanks

  4. This is a sticky issues. For me, in providing feedback, I try to make folks at ease by allowing for my own failings as best example.

    By doing this, I think I take away the 'well, how would you know, did it work for you?' defense, by pointing out that I am certain of what doesn't work and why. Then I stress what works, and why it worked.

    Then, I make sure that everyone takes a piece, so that they own all of the circumstance. Failing at any level, could result in failure at all levels, some could be catastrophic. By giving as many as I can a 'piece of the rope', then everyone has to take a part of the result.

    This creates, IMO, a shared responsiblity in the outcome. Everyone is invested in a positive result. That is part of my philosophy, and what I believe in.

  5. This is good stuff, and on some folks it works and on others it doesn't. Always good to be reminded how to play fair.

  6. Good information & sound advice. I do need to work on these skills.

  7. Good advice. I'll try those. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ken, You ALWAYS make me think!!!!


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)