There was a time in my leadership journey when I was not the nicest person when it came to giving feedback, particularly during my undergraduate years.
During one of my first leadership roles freshman year of college as Academic Chair for the Pilipino American Student Association, I was tasked with making sure all students were honoring the “study space” while we did rehearsals for our cultural play. When I noticed one team member (who is one of my closest friends now) doing push-ups with friends instead of either working on the play or studying, I stood over him and yelled about how he was not helping anyone. Needless to say, I was pulled aside by our student leaders and taught a really important lesson by my friend-colleagues about confrontation.
They took me to the side, and we had a really productive conversation about how what I did was wrong on so many levels. Thank God I’m so better since then (and luckily, these friend-colleagues and I can laugh now about how awful I was…).
Over the years, I learned the hard way (I’ve had to practice and fail and practice again) that there are healthy and productive ways to have uneasy conversations from a place of kindness, empathy, and understanding. And that I don’t have to take on unnatural aggressive methods to get my point across (By the way… Loved Lean In? Read this).
Let’s get started…
Put it out there.
When initiating the conversation, let them know why you want to talk. It’s not necessary to scare people with ambiguity. THAT… is an asshole move.
When both parties know exactly what to expect and are not caught off guard by the nature of the conversation: 1. The other person is less likely to feel attacked 2. You’re both more prepared to have the conversation.
Text and email are common ways to initiate this type of conversation.
Always, always, always try to have a face-to-face interaction when dealing with confrontation about something. It’s easy to hide behind text, and easy for text to be misinterpreted.
Helpful language to use:
– “I noticed that you (insert horrible awful thing here).”
– “Would you be open to (i.e. meeting up, talking in person, smoothing this over, etc)?”
Relax yourself before meeting up.
If you come in ready to fire (unless, of course, this conversation is to literally fire someone), it may get in the way of saying what you mean to say. The goal is to come to a resolution. You can let someone know how much they hurt you/made you angry without showing it to them. And when you are regulated and relaxed, your thoughts and goals for the conversation will be more clear. So go ahead… meditate, breathe deeply, get lunch outdoors– whatever you need to do to mentally prepare for a tough conversation.
Note: Relaxing yourself when you are triggered is different. There are certain conversations that are right to allow the offender to witness the negative emotions that came up for the offended (particularly in conversations on power and privilege). Situations and relationships vary, so there’s never only one answer.
Remember: It has nothing to do with you.
Good friend owes you money? Employee is consistently late? Partner is acting a fool? It has nothing to do with you.
You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life or the reason why they can’t meet your expectations. It’s also important to recognize that no matter what anyone does, even if a person attempts to intentionally hurt you, it says more about them than it does about you. Free yourself: it has nothing to do with you.
You can put this into practice by starting the conversation with asking “What’s going on?” You know that friend who keeps blowing you off or was rude to you in public? You know what’s not an asshole move?
Empathy. Show empathy.
Find out what’s really going on. Have they been really stressed lately? Are they pretending to be okay when they’re not? Start by showing that you care about the relationship and not just about the incident that happened.
Back to basics! Accusatory and attacking “YOU did this…” language often doesn’t work. Use the template above as needed to practice your “I” statements and let the other person know what impact they had on you. While what they do has nothing to do with you, it doesn’t excuse them from learning how you were affected by their actions.
Develop a plan together.
This is where you move from “I” statements to “we” statements. This serves two main purposes: 1. It let’s the other person know that they are not alone in the process of doing better 2. It keeps them accountable, because now you are aware of their plan, too.
And when people are planning with you, they’re less likely to be playin with you. Set dates. Establish what you will and won’t tolerate for next time.
– “What can we do to make sure you’re able to meet your goals?”
– “When can we expect you to pay me back?”
And what if you are on the other end? What if someone is confronting you?
It can be scary. I like to make my body physical spread out (move arms out, unfold legs, chest out) to release confidence boosting chemicals in my body. Learn how to relax yourself as needed, and be open to the feedback, especially if the other person is visibly trying to not be an asshole.