Non Violent Communication: How to give feedback

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Non Violent Communication at work

FeedbackI would like to discuss here how Non Violent Communication (NVC) can be such a powerful framework to provide feedback to someone in the context of the workplace.
NVC is about being attentive to both one’s feelings and needs while at the same type being fully respectful of ours. Inclusion with empathy!
I am trained in Non Violent Communication, and have experienced how simple and yet powerful NVC can be in all relationships of our lives. In particular at work.

The frenetic pace at which we sometimes go through our day at work does not usually allow for time and space for constructive and authentic exchanges.
We (I certainly do!) jump from one meeting to another, from one priority to another with sometime no presence to others or even ourselves.
At the same time, the nature of our work needs to be increasingly more collaborative and inclusive of others’ views and feedback.
As a result, caught by stress, lack of time and conscious presence, we end up saying things like:
“You should pay more attention to details”, “you should communicate better” or “you did a great job!”
Even saying things like “you did a great job!”, which seems like a “great” positive feedback”, is a disguised form of judgment and evaluation! Whereby the person is putting herself/himself in a “high” position to deliver a pretty definitive opinion on someone else.

First, compassionate feedback (solicited or unsolicited) must have as its most important objective the quality of the relationship in mind. When it is not the case, the given feedback will most likely speak of the person providing that feedback rather than of the person receiving it, hence not serving that person.
For instance, if a manager who struggles to raise his own team’s visibility is saying to someone “you should be more visible”, will it really be helpful?
Feedback, as an inclusive process, and as Non Violent Communication explains, will seek to serve the other person by being very specific on the observed cause and effects, without evaluation or judgment.
Let’s now see how we could possibly provide feedback, which is inclusive of both persons ‘ feelings and needs.

  1. We do not give feedback on someone, but on observable behaviors, which that person has had (very important!). Therefore, most feedback starting with “YOU should…” is unlikely to be inclusive of the other person’s feelings and needs! Instead, we will rather give feedback on the specific cause, that is, the behaviors which have led to a situation. By doing so, we are particularly mindful of distinguishing an observation without judgment from an evaluation. This is a key step in the NVC framework, and equally important when it comes to giving feedback.
  2. The consequences and effects: here, we will talk about our needs that have been fulfilled (or not) by the behaviors and actions of the person. And then, express the feelings, which have emerged as a consequence of our needs being fulfilled (or not). We are here at the heart of NVC. Humans are all moved by needs we all to seek to satisfy.  And that our feelings (anger, frustration, fear, despair, sadness, …) are like luminous warnings on a car dashboard : they tell us to what extent our needs are fulfilled or not. Hence, when providing feedback, it is always best to indicate to what extent the behavior of the other person has fulfilled my own needs and the feelings they have triggered. That step is really important : we talk about us , rather than about the other person. Our feedback will consequently be given without a sense of moralization and critics.
  3. Optional: at this stage, one could additionally reinforce the consequences the (new) behavior will have on one’s own project or initiative (or well being, success, …)
  4. Finish by a clear ask. The objective at the end is really to maintain an empathic relationship. This is another key aspect of NVC. Starting with clear observable facts, and expressing our feelings and unfulfilled needs, we need to end with a specific ask. An ask could be as simple as “How do you feel about what I just said?”. One could also ask how the person has received the feedback by asking her/him to repeat what she/he has just heard.

Let’s have a look at one example  (although I am sure you have many from your own experiences already!) and feel the difference between both feedback below. Imagine you are receiving that feedback from your manager!

« John , you really need to be more visible! You should really communicate a lot more!» (ok, thanks, that was useful ! )

“John, when you won that sales deal by clearly demonstrating innovation and “a no lose” mentality with Customer Z, but you did not submit a Best Practice/Article/Summary/White paper, I felt a bit frustrated and disappointed. As I shared already, we are building a new culture in our company as well as in our team, and doing so would be very important as I really have the need for the team to be contributing? May I ask you how you feel when I say that ?”
John: “Yes, I am comfortable with that”
“May I then ask you to write a one-page summary of what allowed us to win, and submit it to me for review by next Monday CoB ?”

Do you feel the difference? Now, your turn!
Developing inclusion and empathy (as NVC suggests it) in the workspace is possible. Non-judgmental feedback does contribute to make our workplace a better place!
Is it easy? Absolutely not !  But certainly worth giving it a try.

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