If you are a leader, spouse, parent, friend, or coach… then I am sure you find yourself in a position where you are looked to for advice, direction, and yes, feedback. When you are in a position of influence, and you hold the responsibility of helping others develop, people expect you to provide them with meaningful, honest, and genuine input on how they are doing with their personal and professional goals.
Feedback is a necessary component to personal and professional growth. Without feedback, people can develop a false sense of self and end up underdeveloped and far from their full potential. Every person, and I mean EVERY person, not only deserves feedback, but has a right to hear feedback. Feedback provides people with the opportunity to transform, self-correct, and position themselves for a better future.
Let's be honest. Giving feedback is not an easy task. You go in with the best intentions and sometimes leave the conversation thinking, what just happened? You try to find the right time, right place, right words but it never seems to go the right way. What am I doing wrong, you may ask. Here is one tip that won't make it easy to give feedback, but it may make it a bit easier.
Tip: Avoid the phrase: "Don't Take This Personally, But..."
Have you ever heard someone start off a conversation with, “I don’t want you to take this personally but”? If you have heard this phrase, then someone was getting ready to give you some feedback! And that leading statement suggests that it was not going to be nice. The “I don’t want you to take this personally” phrase usually has a follow-up statement that could pack a powerful punch and leave you reeling for days, even weeks! Let’s be honest, I have had some feedback given to me that I still remember and it was from 10 years ago (I mean, I am over it, but not really ha!)
You may be thinking, hey I really like to open up the conversation that way. If so, I want to challenge your thoughts on this phrase. When you tell someone “I don’t want you to take this personally” you automatically set the conversation up to have a negative tone. You may be thinking, how? Well, when you tell someone not to take it personally, you’re really telling them not to get upset about what you are about to say…because it is going to upset them. So in essence, you have already gotten them upset, before you have even told them your point. If that is the case, do you really think they are in a position to hear your ‘life changing feedback’? If they are already on the defense due to your leading statement, do you think they are going to want to implement whatever you have to say next? No, not at all. I thought it might be interesting to put this theory to the test, so I polled a few people in my network to gauge their initial thoughts when they heard the phrase, “I don’t want you to take this personally but”. Here are the results:
Only 4% of people indicated that they have positive thoughts about that phrase. Some people said, “I approach it with curiosity rather than judgement”, “It could be said out of love and wanting you to remember you might get defensive”. Twenty-two percent of respondents indicated that the relationship would influence whether or not they interpreted that statement positively or negatively. Not surprisingly, there were 73% who expressed that the phrase created a negative feeling for them. Some people stated, “I get defensive immediately”, “my guard automatically goes up”, “I immediately brace myself” and “I Instantly take it personal”. I think these results speak to the true impact of this phrase.
Why do we use the phrase, “Don’t take this personal” anyway? Why must we make that statement before giving our ‘real’ feedback? Some may simply struggle with just opening the conversation, but for the most part, many people use it as a buffer… you know, to soften the blow! The fact that we attempt to soften it sends the signal to the receiver that this is going to hurt…so they brace for impact and it does!
The truth is, feedback is personal and it should be! If you care about the recipient's development, why not open up the conversation with, "I want you to take this personally"? Wouldn't that be a better way to express your true intentions? You want them to care enough about your feedback to take action, right? I know that phrase sounds odd and I honestly haven't used that phrase before, but it does make you wonder about opening up with a statement that lowers their defenses so that your feedback is truly heard.
I hope you found this short article helpful. Feel free to add your perspective and thoughts below so that everyone can benefit from your insight and experience.
Dr. Shanita Williams has been working in the Learning and Development space for over 10 years. She has worked as a thought partner, facilitator, and speaker on topics to include: Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Change Management, Feedback and various components of staff and leadership development.
Dr. Williams earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Phoenix (2015). Dissertation- She Made It: The lived experiences of African American working mothers as students. She is the CEO of Momploydent, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is committed to helping working mothers excel academically. For speaking or training inquiries: www.momploydent.com or firstname.lastname@example.org