11/29/2012 05:19 EST | Updated 01/29/2013 05:12 EST

Do You T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak?

Many people do not realize that there are some cardinal rules of giving and receiving feedback. Many years ago, I developed an acronym for a client who asked me to provide a keynote for their leadership team on Effective Feedback. It goes like this.


Recently, a colleague -- who I believe (or, at least, hope) had good intentions -- said something to me that was meant to be some feedback to me. She did it in front of another person -- someone that I barely know. It threw me off, I must say.

You've likely guessed that the feedback this person shared with me was not positive feedback. It was, instead, a bluntly delivered message about something that she thought I had said to which she took offense.

It reminded me that many people do not realize that there are some cardinal rules of giving and receiving feedback. I have blogged about feedback in the past, and this experience reminded me that it might be a good idea to revisit the topic.

Firstly, the most basic foundation of effective feedback -- especially if it is less than flattering for the person receiving it, should be done only in private. I felt very uncomfortable hearing something that this person thought about me, in front of another person who had no context for hearing that message (and no relationship with me in which to evaluate the message). In fact, I did not have a significant relationship with the person delivering the message either -- which is a good segue to the next point.

Secondly, feedback should only be shared if the giver asks permission of the receiver. That did not happen in my recent situation. Asking permission respects the receiver. Perhaps it is not a good time. Perhaps the receiver is feeling vulnerable for unrelated reasons, and the last thing he or she needs to hear is something negative.

Thirdly, before you even decide to deliver feedback to another human being, make sure you are clear on your purpose for delivering it. Your purpose might be that you care about the person and want to share something with them of which they might not be aware. Your purpose might also be that you have noticed that your relationship is being adversely affected by something the other person did or did not do, and you want to clear that out of the way. Another purpose might be that you are a leader who needs to share some feedback with a staff member to enable their effective development in the organization.

Many years ago, I developed an acronym for a client who asked me to provide a keynote for their leadership team on Effective Feedback. The Acronym I developed is P.O.I.S.E. The client loved the acronym because it also reminds us to be 'poised' for respect in all of our communications with others.

It goes like this:

P: State your Purpose, ask Permission, and ensure you are in Private.

O: Share your Observation of the other person's behaviour.

I: Exchange Information. Share your interpretations, thoughts, and/or your feelings. Check in with the other person to confirm their intention.

S: Develop a Solution for moving forward in your relationship.

E: End on a positive note.

It might go something like this:

P:"Hi Bob. I have something that I would like to share with you that is affecting my relationship with you. Is now a good time for you?" (Make sure you are in a private location, with a door that shuts.)

O: "Yesterday, in our staff meeting, you interrupted me twice during my presentation."

I: "I thought it was because you do not value me as a professional, and I felt very disrespected. Can you help me understand what was going on from your perspective?"

S: "So, from now on, you will hold your questions until the end of my presentation. And for really large projects, I will run them by you before the staff meeting in case you would like to clarify key elements ahead of time."

E:"Thanks, Bob. This will certainly help to ensure we maintain a positive work environment, and keep being productive as a team. I appreciate your time."

Remember that there is a difference between an observation and an interpretation. It is very important that, when you deliver feedback, you separate them. The observation is the other person's behaviour. It is objective. The interpretation is the meaning that YOU add to the behaviour. It is subjective. You are entitled to your interpretation, and you can own it; the key is not to assume that your interpretation IS the observation.

In the example above, the observation is "you interrupted me twice during my presentation", and the interpretation is "you do not value/respect me". The observation is concrete and observable, the interpretation is not -- it is personal to the deliverer. Imagine how different it would sound if the deliverer above said "Bob, you are disrespectful." That's what it sounds like when someone is assuming that their interpretation of another person's behaviour is the objective part -- "the truth." And, that kind of feedback (and that kind of assumption of truth), generally causes great damage to the relationship.

P.O.I.S.E. is both simple, and effective. I was reminded of a similarly simple strategy, in Elisha Goldstein's book The Now Effect. The acronym for this strategy is T.H.I.N.K. This is a great reminder to always T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak, whether giving feedback or not. So, next time you need to deliver feedback, or to speak to another person about just about anything, ask yourself:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

I think this strategy, combined with some tips from P.O.I.S.E. would also help you avoid the uncomfortable, and often very damaging effects of ineffective communication.

Even though the feedback I received from this person was not in private, not provided with permission, and with an unclear (unstated) purpose, I am still happy that I heard it. I believe that I can always learn something from feedback -- it does not mean that it is true, just that it is true for the person delivering it in that moment. And, as a professional who wants to respect others and be respected back, I honour people who share their truth with me.

Now imagine, if you chose to regularly T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak. Would you have more P.O.I.S.E.? Would your relationships be positively affected?