Maybe you've been in a situation where a colleague is giving a presentation and ends almost every sentence with "and so on...". At this point, you notice the parasitic phrase that diminishes the quality and power of your company presentation. Or you've attended a team meeting where everyone was supposed to present a topic or share an opinion, but one of your colleagues "took the floor" and literally "ate up" all the time allotted for that meeting. Or every day you witness how some colleagues never throw away the used coffee capsule in the common kitchen, but leave it in the coffee machine.
It is certainly good to give feedback to these people on exactly what they can change in their actions, because the benefit will be more than personal, but this can be quite a difficult task. In most cases we are not sure whether the other person will take this as a helpful suggestion or as harsh criticism and interference. Many people will not "open their mouths" in such cases because they do not want to offend or upset the other person.
But if we have to put ourselves in the other person's shoes - wouldn't it be better for us for them to share their feedback with us, and for us to improve our actions, results and relationships with colleagues?
A number of studies on the topic of feedback have been done by researchers at Harvard Business School. In one of them, the results show that when feedback is delivered in a way that hurts the person, even if it is constructive, it is more likely to have the opposite effect. But in another study, researchers asked participants if they would want someone to tell them if they had a pen on their cheek before they began a presentation and if they themselves would say a similar thing to a colleague if they had a pen on their cheek. The results there show that we underestimate people's willingness to get feedback that even we ourselves desire and are willing to receive from them.
It comes out that most people are unwilling to give constructive criticism, even though they think it would be helpful for themselves to receive it. One of the main reasons for this is that we seek to avoid the awkward moments that can result from the other side's reaction, or we hope someone else will "open their mouth" for us because it will be easier that way.
In such moments it is good to approach the situation consciously. What does this mean? Mindfulness (or being present in the present) is increasingly entering as an important part of our business ethics and behaviour. Thanks to research in psychology and neuroscience, we know that mindfulness in the present moment is key to both our health and good relationships with others.
Being present in the present moment means not only mastering a broad focus that includes paying attention to others as well as ourselves, but also observing what is happening with curiosity, kindness, and without judgment.
Let's go back to the question of whether we should share our constructive criticism, and if so, how do we do it in a good-natured way so as not to offend the person across from us?
First of all, it's good to ask ourselves, "Would I be willing to be told similar things if I were in the other person's shoes?" If the answer is yes, the decision to act becomes much easier.
Here's what behavioral science has borrowed from mainstream business principles to help us in similar situations:
1. We need to focus on the situation, not the person's behavior.
2. We should notice what his particular action involves.
3. We do not give an evaluation, but share the result/effect it has on us or other people.
4. We offer a solution/help "with an open heart".
For example, "During your presentation (situation), you used the parasitic phrase "and so on" (action) quite often. The people sitting in front of me also noticed it and started counting how many times they would hear the parasitic phrase instead of digging deeper into the information you were sharing (result). I've had to use parasitic phrases myself, and I've found it helps if I ask someone in the audience to listen carefully beforehand and let me know if they notice something like that. Still, it's no big deal - once there are two of us. If you want at the next presentation I can do that for you, and you can find your own better way."
It may seem a bit complicated, but it's actually quite simple - we don't allow ourselves to behave with others in a way we don't want anyone to behave with us. But we also don't fail to share when we can help it.