Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Honesty or Negativity - It's all a matter of perspective

Recently I was engaged in a discussion in an online workgroup focused on people in the workplace. Someone posted a question concerning why people seemed to be so negative about their jobs and employers. There were several thoughtful comments posted on this topic from people with varying backgrounds and perspectives. Then I saw a response that went like this.

“You can’t be honest in the workplace or it is perceived as negativity. Anytime I make an honest comment or provide honest feedback I’m told that I’m being negative. Sometimes I even try to provide positive comments, but I’m still told they are negative. So I no longer try. I just keep my mouth shut.”

I felt compelled to respond to this person and composed the following response:

Dear Bob,

Thanks for your thoughts on this important topic. We have a very diverse group of people responding here and many comments give me pause for thought. In the work that I do I often find people who present arguments similar to yours. If you don’t object, I’d like to provide you with some honest feedback as well.

Here it is:

What a load of hooeey! Are you really so simple minded that you are unable to discern the difference between honest feedback and negative feedback?

The difference between honest feedback and negative feedback is not a difficult concept to understand. Honest feedback involves truth presented in a way the feedback can be used to improve an idea or performance. Negative feedback also involves truth, but is presented in a way to stifle further discussion and make the person feel that they themselves are not valuable. Most people get this intuitively, but that certainly is not true for you.

Reading through my comments it occurs to me that you might be offended by my views. That’s too bad because I’m just being honest with you. Honesty after all, is what we are really after, isn’t it?



I went to the site to post my comments but found that the original poster had removed them. That’s too bad, because I thought there was a valuable lesson here. Of course, I also wondered if he would have grasped the sarcasm in my reply as I provided him with negative feedback disguised as “honesty.” At ECI Learning Systems the work we do every day involves conflict, often caused by miscommunication. Sometimes the problem comes from the top leaders and sometimes it comes from the team members themselves. In either event, a person confuses “honest feedback” with rude, arrogant, and even condescending comments that deflate the individual and the team. Obviously my comments to Bob were extreme. And they were intended that way. But many individuals present thoughtless, negative feedback to others under the guise of “honesty” or “just telling it like it is.”

My guess is that you know someone who does that routinely and either doesn’t realize it, or doesn’t realize the impact these comments have on the individual or the team. If so, it’s time to help them see themselves as others see them. It’s probably not something that you want to do on your own, but it is something that definitely needs to be done.

I hope that you found this posting helpful. If so, please share it with others who might benefit as well.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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