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A Great Way to Give Feedback: Two Stars and a Wish

A Great Way to Give Feedback: Two Stars and a Wish

Somebody told me that I was very poor at taking criticism, but I quickly pointed out that they were quite wrong. This little jest reveals a truth: we don’t like being criticized. We can easily become defensive and this makes it difficult for us to take on board the feedback that we near to hear. The same applies to the people we deal with at home, in social situations or in the office. But how can you criticize without upsetting the other person?

Two Stars and a Wish

As parents, friends or bosses we often have to give critical feedback, so how can we do this in a way that does not antagonize the other person but instead helps them to improve? Here is a method that works well in nearly all circumstances – it’s called two stars and a wish. Let’s say that little Johnny has terrible writing. His teacher could criticize this and tell him to work on it. Or she could say something like this: “Johnny, your stories are very interesting and you describe the characters really well. But I wish that I could read your writing more easily.” She starts with two elements of praise (and we all like to hear that) and then she frames the criticism in an ‘I wish’ form rather than a ‘You must’ form. Johnny feels good about the feedback and learns a way to make his stories even better.

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Similarly, say you have to chastise a colleague or subordinate at work for regularly submitting reports late. Most managers would say something like: “Jane, your last three reports have been late. Can you please get them to me on time from now on.” Using two stars and a wish you might say, “Jane, your reports are really accurate and useful to me, but I do wish that you would get them to me on time. That would really help.” Which approach do you think is more likely to be accepted by Jane and persuade her to change? The positive feedback acts like sugar on the pill of the criticism and makes it much easier to swallow.

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Explain the Impact

Another tip on giving feedback is to explain the impact of the behavior. In the last example you could expand the comment as follows: “Jane, your reports are really accurate and useful to me. They are very important because they help the company make accurate stock and purchasing decisions. But I do wish that you would get them to me on time because when they are late it puts me in a difficult position in the weekly management meetings and makes it hard for the team to make the right buying decisions.” By explaining the consequences of Jane’s conduct, you give her a more powerful reason to change than if you just asked her.

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Give Praise

Similarly, you should describe the impact when you give positive feedback. As a boss you should give praise whenever you can. It is great to get the chance to say, “Great work, Jim!” But it is even better to expand on it and say, “Great work, Jim. There was a risk that we would lose that customer but the way you handled the situation has turned that around completely.” Many people feel bashful about praising a colleague but it is a very positive thing to do and is as simple as saying, “I thought you raised some really good points in the meeting and you helped us focus on the key issue of customer satisfaction.”

The next time you feel that you have to criticize someone, start by giving them some praise. Try the two stars and a wish approach – it will lead to a better result for them and for you.

Featured photo credit: Ed Yourdan via flickr.com

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Paul Sloane

Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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