Recently a team we were working with said they often have trouble interpreting “OK” when it comes in the form of an email or a text message. “Do they really mean it’s OK, or is the author somewhat disappointed?” The team spoke of how they would often second-guess what was written. As it turns out, this is quite common.
For a moment, consider how much feedback you give via written form. Whether it’s a performance review, a student’s essay, a response to someone’s work or an idea pitched in an email, we give an incredible amount of written feedback in the course of a week. One potential issue with this is, we remove the usual social cues we might otherwise use (facial expressions, tone of voice etc.) to determine whether or not something really is OK, or if we’ve let someone down.
So, as Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence explains, if the author of an email or text feels positive about what they have sent, the receiver typically feels neutral. And if the author feels neutral about the message, the receiver typically feels negative about it. And if the sender is negative… well… that’s when it all kicks off! 🙂
So, to ensure that your message hits home in the manner you intend, you might try some of these ideas the next time you need to deliver some constructive criticism in writing:
1. Start with What Went Well: This is a move straight out of the positive psychology playbook, and ensures the person on the receiving end knows their efforts are valued. Something along the lines of, “Thanks for getting this to me so quickly,” or “This is a great start.”
2. Be Kind, Specific and Helpful in your words: (I learned this from Expeditionary Learning). Instead of offering broad criticisms like, “It’s just not good enough,” offer some small specific ways to improve (helpful) and be kind. You don’t need to tear shreds off anyone. (And if you do, then it probably says more about you than the other person. #JustSaying).
3. Offer Suggestions Rather Than Instructions: Okay, so some people do have the whole, “Just tell me what to do” mindset when they’re not working well, but if we succumb to this, then you’re setting yourself up for more of these conversations down the track. By using phrases like, Could you…? Might you…? Have you thought about…? You’re more likely to engage [most] people to improve.
4. Speak Like Carol Dweck: Carol advocates the use of the word, “Yet” and I do too. By using the word “yet” we are implying we expect people to be able to do whatever is being asked of them in time. The more we can communicate high expectations and a belief they can improve, the more likely people are to take on constructive criticism with a Growth Mindset.
The importance of Emotional Intelligence in our work and personal life cannot be over-stated particularly as everyone seems to be getting busier and communicating more and more through screens. It’s for this reason that we’re including a module on Emotional Intelligence this Habits of Leadership Program.