"I don't like what you did yesterday."

"I don't like what you did yesterday."

"I don't like what you did yesterday."

When a colleague makes a statement like that to you, what is your first reaction?

"WTH?" Or maybe it's "Which thing is he talking about?" Or perhaps you find yourself rolling your eyes and thinking, "OK, now what?"

His comment is vague. You care enough to want to understand what the problem is, but you have no way of acting upon it, other than to ask for clarification. Many people would simply ask, "What are you talking about?"

Another challenge with your colleague's opening statement is that it gives neither of you structure for continuing the interaction. No structure means the problem will likely be stated poorly, and frequently buried under a lot of sentiment and emotion.

The result: You don't get what you want. Your listener is frustrated and unable to act. It's a communication failure. Most importantly, both of you have a low chance of actually solving the basic problem.

Your unfavorable reaction and subsequent question could send this conversation in a potentially negative direction. What should you say? How do you respond to achieve an amicable outcome?

In understanding the importance of "why" feedback can be effective, it's perhaps best to focus now on the first principle of effective, and successful, feedback: Using specific and descriptive language.

Let's imagine that you have a framework that helps you structure your communication objectively using specific, descriptive language. It helps you remain objective while defining a problem, and therefore, you define it accurately, which now paves the way for an effective resolution.

In this example, your colleague's (the one who feels offended or insulted) initial comment could now go something like, "I'd like to talk with you about our meeting with John yesterday." This immediately establishes a time frame and some context and your mind recalls that memory right away.

Then his next comment (again in this example) is something along the line of, "I didn't appreciate your personal remarks about my assistant. If you have an issue with his performance, could we handle it privately in my office next time?" OK, he's communicated his concerns with clear details and shared with you his desired outcome.

Now you know exactly what the issue is and can better react, and preferably respond, in an appropriate, businesslike manner.

When you use specific language that identifies the "who", "what", "where", and "when" to describe a situation, it's important that you include time frame, context, and details about the change that you want. By leaving any one of these elements out of your feedback communication you create an ambiguous, or often confusing, scenario that prevents your listener from comprehending the entire situation or from taking responsible action.

Before you deliver feedback, try breaking down the details in your mind. Make certain that you are conveying specifics regarding time, context, and your desired change. For business related situations, availability of tools, frameworks, and best practices go a long way, in not only quickly identifying problems and resolving them, but also in circumventing simple work issues — related to process, technology, or solutions — from becoming people issues.

No matter what the situation is, using these communication tactics will help you and your colleagues with new language for expressing ideas.

Set yourself up for communication success!

Next week's topic: Focusing on behavior

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