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Harmonizing Perspectives: The Geometry of Communication

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I was talking with someone today about how to provide what might feel like critical feedback to someone who is a leader.  This can and often does feel difficult and even impossible at times.  There is something to be said about reading the room and knowing what to say and when to say it, but we also need to become aware of what might be creating the fear of providing feedback.  I’ve heard and experienced many of these. Does any of this sound familiar to you? 

  • Maybe if I leave it alone it will resolve itself.

  • I’m not sure I trust the other person to hear the feedback and respond as I expect.

  • I can’t control the situation or the outcome, so why bother?

  • Why do I always need to be the one to give the feedback? Don’t others see it?

  • I know the right way, but I don’t think they’ll listen.

  • I don’t want to risk damaging relationships in giving this feedback.

We’re human beings and it’s hard because we want the best possible outcome for ourselves and others.  The following is a model that I’ve used to think about this.  When we’re grappling with a decision, an interaction, or addressing a need, consider these three questions.

  1. Who do we serve?

  2. Why do we serve them?

  3. How do we serve them best?

I use this picture to describe the answers.

The geometry of the triangle shows that the team serves our customers so that we can grow our business.  Typically to have balance, you want all sides of the triangle to be equal.  Most often people will be at the base because without them you can’t grow the business or serve the customers.  P.S. This goes for leaders too!  But sometimes the base may shift, and sometimes the length of the sides might be skewed based upon need, perception, and focus.  If, however, you strive for balance, you’re probably on the right track.

If you think about it, you can probably tie your personal values to each side of the triangle.  For example.

  • I value creating strong relationships (People, Customer)

  • I value financial freedom (Customer, Business)

  • I value being a Servant Leader (People)

  • I value work / life balance (People, Business)

So now think about this in relation to giving feedback.  Let’s use an example.  You have a leader who makes decisions without communicating well, or at all.  The outcome is that expectations are missed, people misunderstand intent, and people are caught off guard.  Over the course of time, consider how this impacts the triangle.

  • The people experience lack of trust or begin not executing their jobs well.

  • The customer may experience slower response, or unmet needs.

  • The business may experience inefficiency.

If you step outside of the situation for a minute, and set any fear you have aside, how might you approach this conversation to create balance for the people, the customer, and the business?  Remember, you’re all human beings.  There’s a great chance that this leader values the same things you do in this model– serving people, customers, and business. 

You don’t need to address all three.  Maybe just one.  I’d suggest inviting them into the conversation and then putting yourself in their shoes first.  What did they care about at the time they made the decision? How can you be empathetic and supportive?  You get to control how you approach it. 

For example you could say, I understand we made this decision recently.  I’m hoping that you can help me understand it better.  I received feedback from the team that the customer was concerned about the team response, because they weren’t aware of the decision.  I know that this decision was based on what you believe is best for the customer.  How can we get this information out to the team so we can all meet the new expectations?  How can we support you in the future as decisions arise to make sure we’re aligned to your goals?

Sometimes the fear of how others feel, or how we might be viewed can stop us cold.  But if we can remember we’re all trying to do the best we can, and align to a value-based approach, like this triangle, with focus on what we can control – e.g., demonstrating a sage response or approaching with curiosity - we can create the business, customer and people experiences we long for. 

If you’d like more support with creating dynamic, sage communication with others, follow me on LinkedIn to learn more.

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