My fellow senior network engineer, Chet, and I first met several years ago at our previous job together. Thankfully we kept in touch and when my current predecessor left, he brought me in to fill the spot. One of the lesson we both learned at our previous job was giving authentic feedback. They taught us how to have an uncomfortable conversation when providing constructive criticism. The primary goal is to help improve the person you are talking to. Since I am grappling with my passive, not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings self, Chet is more adept at this than I. However, I do appreciate its benefits and am pushing myself to use it more often.
Last week, Chet and I worked with one of our junior engineers named Chuck. He is very eager, passionate, and a hard worker. However, sometimes he is a little out of control. On top of that, this whipper snapper talks a mile a minute. During a joint conference call, I was trying to inform him how to fix a certain problem. He was so busy talking, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. After the call, Chet screamed, “That’s it! I am going to give Chuck some authentic feedback next week!”
When those two magic words are uttered, if done in a calm and non emotional state, it should disarm the receiver from getting defensive. Rather than launch into the constructive criticism, vocalizing it hopefully signals to the receiver, this is meant to be constructive and not a personal attack.
Chet clued me in that he and Chuck were discussing Chuck’s love life. Chuck wondered why the girls he dates eventually fizzles out. After the conference call, Chet’s authentic feedback will be, “It’s because you are so busy talking that you don’t listen to anyone. I’m guessing the girls you date want to be heard. You are not really paying attention to them just like you do with us at work. We are trying to explain something to you. But you don’t hear it because you are just telling us what you already know.”
Chet is very diligent and passionate about many fields in IT. Who would have that it also covers personal relationships? He continued by telling me about his old boss, Dina. One day, she brought some of her home cooking and shared it with her team. Everyone was polite and said it tasted delicious. Chet was the only one who gave her authentic feedback. “I’m not going to just stand around and act like everyone else. I told her, straight up, that her cooking was not very good.” He continued, “Do you want me to be polite or do you want to be a better cook? It may hurt in the beginning, and I am sorry. But I want you to be a better cook.” Dina said it hurt, but thanked him for his authentic feedback. I am not sure if she ever let Chet try her cooking again. But I can almost guarantee that she improved because of his uncomfortable, yet honest comment.
Cooking is a skill. If the person is passionate enough, he or she can improve. But will authentic feedback work on a personality or a bad habit? We’ll see if Chet can work his magic on Chuck. I certainly hope he follows through for everyone’s sake. If not, you can count on me giving some authentic feedback of my own.