Before engaging in a visioning exercise with teams, one question I always ask is this – is there anything between anyone in the team that needs to be clarified, resolved, forgiven? One by one, I ask the team members, through a step by step process of giving/receiving feedback, to put on the table any small or major roadblock any of them may be experiencing with another in the group. This tends to be a scary process for leaders and employees alike, because a large majority of organizations do not incorporate feedback processes as an integral part of the culture. In fact, more often than not, feedback is reprimanded unless it is ‘positive’ feedback. Unfortunately, without a system that encourages constructive feedback, teams are not given the necessary space to effectively resolve issues as they occur. The longer an issue stays unresolved, the more debilitated the team performance. Moreover, without a process that helps resolve unmet expectations, clarify issues, and improve communication, the harder it is to create a vision that team members actually believe they can co-create and live into. A vision built atop any unresolved issues is bound to stay on paper only.
Clearing old stuff is about building trust, and through trust a foundation can be built making room for a designed future to be constructed.
The road to trust requires that any unresolved issues be cleared, one by one, and with each person involved. Trust is then continuously worked on, ensuring an opening is always available for new, creative ideas and visions to be fostered. With teams I use three essential steps for creating this opening and I emphasize the importance of making such a process culturally welcomed within the organization. It may take months before the process becomes second nature, but the positive results of the process are instantaneous.
To initiate the process of feedback, I begin by teaching and having team members experiment with the practice of praise. Praise, in this context, is a conscious decision to look for something we appreciate in people – specially, in those we may be harboring a resentment. Through this process we inevitably change our perception of the person. This is because what we pay attention to tends to grow inside of us. If you want to test this for yourself, you can do it instantaneously. Close your eyes, and think of someone with who you are or may have recently had some communication issues. Focus on how wrong they are, and all the things you dislike about them, specially with respect to the actual event that has caused you distress. Stay with it and feel in your body the resentment growing.
Now, take a deep breath, and focus on something about this person you deeply appreciate. Something you sincerely admire about her/him. Feel in your body now, likely in your chest area and tummy, the tightness of the resentful feeling dissipating. Stay with this appreciation long enough and that old feeling will eventually become smaller than this new, more expansive feeling.
To get rid of the feeling altogether, we must take the next step, and that is to say the praise out loud. When we speak it out loud we experience language transforming the context for us. The other person also experience the expansiveness from the exchange. Just like money that appreciates in the bank account, praise is a form of allowing resourceful, expansive feeling to grow. This is the first step to clearing up old things, removing blockages and making room for a powerful and empowering vision.
Three steps to communication
The second step in this feedback process is to engage in a 3-step communication exchange meant to put on the table anything that feels unresolved. If there was a particular communication exchange in which you felt disrespected, undervalued, judged, wrongly criticized, patronized, etc. this is the time to get clarity and close the issue. This process has nothing to do with compromise. It is a process that helps you see things about yourself and in turn shed some light for others to see your experience of an event.
In order to do so, you must first learn to discern between facts and stories. As obvious as this may seem, this is one of the most enlightening things team members learn as they engage in a new form of communication. To try to separate our story about the facts from the facts themselves, is particularly difficult when we feel upset. Automatically our mind wants to protect the emotional or psychological damage by first making ourselves right and the other person wrong, and then building evidence of this for as long as we allow. If you begin to build a story about the facts, and you don’t stop yourself from doing that, all of a sudden the story gets very long, and soon enough you will feel very attached to his constructed reality you have built in your mind. Separate the facts when learning to communicate, and be only interested in how the facts, not your story, affected you.
After stating the facts, you must then acknowledge for yourself what value you felt was particularly hurt during the event or exchange. What value in you made you feel the way you felt? Name ONE value. Take ownership that what upset you was not the other person, but how the facts hurt your own value. Instead of saying, when this happens, you made me feel this way, you will learn to say, when the facts happened, I felt this way because this is an important value to me that was hurt. Taking ownership means removing any victim language. It means taking away the ‘this is happening to me’ or ‘you do these things to me.’ It is also important to stop yourself from giving a laundry list of feelings that were hurt. Stay with one value, one primary feeling. Ultimately the feeling itself is not important to resolving the conflict – it is only important to help you get clarity around your values.
The last step is to offer a solution. Note that you are making an offer, and not demanding a solution. You have to allow the other person to go through the same process.
After you have praised, and communicated your issue (or issues), and feel genuinely that the solutions are acceptable to both parties, then you are ready for the final step. Here, we engage in a method for constructive feedback. Constructive feedback means that you will receive, from someone you trust, either a answer to a specific question you asked, or a unsolicited point-of-view of you or your performance intended to help you see something that is residing in your blind spot.
We all have blind spots. And most of us will remain blind to these spots because of two mistakes we make: we never accept a different point of view than ours, and we elect to never explicitly ask for feedback. Both of these are common mistakes we make because we are often not taught how to give and receive skillful feedback. Overprotection of children, and then companies who explicitly deny or reject feedback among employees ‘unless positive,’ is detrimental to personal and team growth. A culture that discourages feedback, stifles growth and eventually build a collection of team members that feel ultimately disengaged because they have no room to speak their minds.
Because a culture in an organization is made up of a network of conversations, honest and constructive feedback is the key element for trust building and growth. But to break through old patterns, it is best that feedback practices be delivered in a particular context that is openly accepted within the team, so that it is an even playing field for everyone. To start, feedback exercised can be given ‘blindly.’ One good method I have used successfully, is to have each person in the team ask a question they have that they like to receive feedback on from the group. For instance, you may ask ‘what will make me a stronger communicator?’ or ‘give me some tips on how I can improve my communication with my team.’ Everyone in the team then answers the question providing feedback, on a flash card. The cards are compiled together and the person who asked the question receives the cards at the end of the meeting, after everyone else has had a chance to ask and receive feedback as well.
I let the team decide if they want the person giving the feedback to write their names on the cards. I often prefer that they do as this way, any questions arising from the feedback can be discussed after the meeting, one on one. But, some teams may feel more comfortable, to begin with, to have the feedback be ‘anonymous.’ Eventually, this should change, because the giving and receiving of feedback will become more comfortable to everyone.
By learning to praise, clear communication issues with the 3-step process, and then engaging in an agreed feedback process, the team will eventually be ready to sit down together to co-create a vision. In this case, the vision will be built on a foundation of trust, and will most likely be a designed future the team will want to live into, together. When such a future is co-created, the very networks of conversations, change because how each person see themselves, and one another changes. Each team member feels a part of a tribe and this feeling of safety helps each person fly higher in their endeavors and achievements.