Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 57: Enforcement or feedback?

June 15, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 57: Enforcement or feedback?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 57: Enforcement or feedback?
Jun 15, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"Feedback for most of us is a stretch. In fact, if you're not feeling stretched while you're giving feedback, my guess is you could give better feedback. But really good feedback is almost always a stretch outside that comfort zone."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"Feedback for most of us is a stretch. In fact, if you're not feeling stretched while you're giving feedback, my guess is you could give better feedback. But really good feedback is almost always a stretch outside that comfort zone."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "Enforcement or feedback?"

Paul:

So this is a topic, we've been dancing around for a little while. It's a thing that that comes back in a lot of the different episodes we've done, and we've decided maybe we should just tackle it sort of head on here today. So one of the things that we've talked a bunch about before are the effects of enforcement, of trying to make somebody do something. We've talked before about why do we have rules, when do we need to have rules? And oftentimes, we feel like we need to, because we don't realize there's an alternative. And we want to explore kind of what alternatives to enforcing rules can actually look like. And one of those alternatives that Karen kind of blew my mind with when she mentioned it, when we were prepping for the show, is this idea of feedback. And so this is where we want to explore a little bit today about what can happen if we think about feedback as an alternative to enforcing the rules.

Karen:

I think it's worth pausing for just a minute to point to Episode 40, where we talked about why you maybe don't want to do enforcement. The really short version of that is that enforcement will harm relationships. It's forcing someone to do something they otherwise wouldn't, through some level of influence, and that will harm relationships, I think really reliably. And I say sometimes it's worth it. So the idea is enforcement of rules is a choice. I think it's actually probably a pretty decent choice for certain traffic laws. I'm pretty glad we work really hard to make sure nobody drives on the left side of the road. There are things where that enforcement is appropriate and useful. But it does come at a cost. Particularly where there's a relationship, it comes at a cost. And so what we're looking at today is okay, if we decide that enforcement of the rule isn't worth the cost to the relationship, or whatever other costs there may be to enforcement, what can we do instead. "Okay, so we aren't willing to enforce it, but I still don't like that behavior." And I want to say I think here, we're largely talking about behavior. And we're largely talking about behavior, I think, for which the person doing the behavior that I don't like, is probably largely unconscious, of both their choice to do the thing, and also the impact that it's having on me. And so if that's the frame that we're starting from, of, okay, we don't want to deal with this with enforcement, because it's too expensive, and we really would like this behavior to change. And we don't think that this person is actively choosing to do a thing that bugs me, or hurts me, or triggers me or whatever the impact on me is, what is another option that we have?

Paul:

And what we're really pointing to here is how can you influence away from the behavior you don't want and towards the behavior you do want, without using force. You said it very clearly, lpeople don't realize, one, that they're doing a thing or two, the impact that they're having. So when I teach people about feedback, I say, "Look, feedback is information about the effects of behavior." That's what it is. And so I try when I'm giving feedback to somebody, to really just let them know, this was the thing that you did, which you may or may not realize, and this was the effect that it had on me. And I try to frame that in such a way that there is as little argument about that as possible, making it you know, sort of very behavioral. You picked up the phone, you did this thing, right things that a scientist could see with a clipboard, if they're standing in the doorway sorts of things. I don't care about your intent. Your intent doesn't matter there. What you did is what actually creates the impact. And then the impact also needs to be described in a way that that is hard to argue with. And how I felt about something is something that no one can actually argue with. You might tell me I shouldn't feel that way, but you can't tell me I wasn't angry. I was angry. And I can own part of that. But we can talk about that. And so what happens when we give people information about the effects of their behavior is that we give them possibility to make a

different choice:

one, to recognize that they do have some choice, and then, two, now they get to decide what they actually want to do about it. Do they want to start to become more aware of this? Do they want to work on this or not? And that I think, is one of the things that preserves the relationship. I am trusting you to make good decisions with this information now that you have it. You didn't have it before, and I'll probably need to give it to you again, because a lot of this stuff is unconscious. But I think that's one of the things that allows us to start to shape and influence behavior, but in a way that preserves relationship.

Karen:

Yeah, and I think too, that, in addition to the things you said about being clear reporting the behavior that you saw without a lot of judgy words around it, or assumptions of intent around it I think the other part of that is to know that my video camera, my little scientist clipboard that recorded all of that may not match yours. And so I think part of that frame is "What I saw or the story I'm telling myself about what you did is..." because that opens up the possibility that I saw something you didn't see, or even that I saw something you didn't actually do. That somehow maybe a story to got me through a third person, or maybe I interpreted a thing or only I mean, who knows what, but if you and I are not in the same reality about the behavior, of course, we're not going to be in the same understanding of the impact. So I think there's this piece of owning that all I have is my perception, and the impact that it had on me. That's the information I'm giving you. And then the second piece I really want to track with this is I'm giving you that information, and I'm giving it to you because I trust that you care. Because I trust that at the end of the day, you are doing the best you can and part of the best you can is to work well with me as a team member, as a community member, within whatever our relationship is, that you are on your side doing the best you can just like I'm on my side doing the best I can. And if the result of the feedback isn't the change that I'm asking for, it really helps if I can tell myself that that isn't because you didn't care, you didn't listen to me, I didn't matter, I wasn't valuable. If we can clear all of that out of the way and go, "Okay, the feedback didn't have the impact that I'd like it to have." Probably because it somehow didn't work on the other side. Maybe it wasn't understood, maybe it didn't land, maybe the habit is too entrenched. Maybe that thing I don't like but is a coping mechanism for some other big thing that that person. Don't take away the toddler's binky kind of thing. We know it's bad for the teeth, but they need it for whatever reason. And I don't want to sound pejorative about somebody need for a coping mechanism. But we do all have coping mechanisms. And if you strip away all of our coping mechanisms, that's not going to make us better at relationship.

Paul:

This is very, very true. The other piece around that is, and we've talked about this before, about boundaries. Boundaries are setting the rules for engagement. These are the conditions under which I can interact with you and have this kind of relationship with you. And if that condition is not true right now and despite the feedback that I've given you about it, that behavior is not shifting, I can choose not to engage with you while that's true, we can talk later, I can get into this thing. But if I've given you the feedback, if we've gone through that a couple of times, and the desired change of behavior isn't happening for whatever reason, then I can just say, "I'm not going to engage with you around this right now." I don't have to hold that against you. I don't have to think you're a bad person for doing that thing. And also I can say, to preserve the relationship we do have, I'm not going to engage with you around this right now. But we don't have to go to the force. That's actually about how I can take control of my own behavior when I'm noticing that this shows up. Rather than saying, well, you have to follow these rules, or we need to make a rule about this so that I can force you to change your behavior. So I think that that's another piece in there about when feedback doesn't produce the desired the desired shift in behavior. Because it won't always.

Karen:

Yeah, and I want to say a few words of caution about that. You know, "What you're doing isn't working for me, so I'm going to create some distance here," which I agree with you is an appropriate boundary. And we need to be really thoughtful of how we're using it. I recently saw a study about the effect of the silent treatment, and the psychological harm that it does, and it was actually pretty stunning how hurtful that is. And so I think we need to be careful that we're not using it punitively, that we're not actually in an enforcement kind of energy. And I think one of the things that helps that be true is if it's possible, which it's not always, but sometimes it's possible to say, "I'm not willing to engage with you in the way that's happening right now. But I would be happy to engage with you this other way." "I'm not willing to have this conversation on email, I'd be glad to meet you for a cup of tea." "I'm not willing to continue this conversation with his emotional energy, I'd be glad to reconnect tomorrow." But like figuring out where my boundary is, and then giving a clear path for where the connection can continue. That's not always possible. There are times that you want to fully step away, like, "I've done that too many times, I'm just not getting back in." That's when the choice is to end the relationship. But if the intention is to maintain the relationship, I'm creating separation without any path, or timing or way for reconnection to happen, will be hurtful, and will probably be tough. It's not going to do good things for the relationship going forward.

Paul:

One of the things in the sort of examples that you gave is that those actually provide more information to the person you're giving them to about what those conditions are. About what works and what doesn't. The thing that I think initially really intrigued me about this idea of enforcement or feedback is that oftentimes, we find ourselves going to enforcement, when we haven't been giving people information. Because enforcement doesn't require us to give people information. It's easy, in a way. But I've seen this all the time, particularly in organizations, where it somebody doesn't know that they're not meeting performance standards, and then nobody wants to tell them until it's too late. And then we fall into this power-over mode, because that's really what enforcement is about is positional power and power-over and things like that. It's hard and people don't like doing it. And the problem is that we fall into it because we haven't been given people information. Because we haven't been giving them feedback, because we haven't been letting them know about the impact that their behavior is having. And so I think that's another reason why feedback is an alternative to enforcement, because, again, it's about trusting that people will make a make good and reasonable decisions when they have all of the relevant pieces of information. And if we're withholding that from them, if we're not giving them that information, we're increasing the chances that the only way we're going to have to try to change the behavior we don't want is with enforcement.

Karen:

Yeah, and this is something I imagine we say in many episodes, but I think it's worth pointing to why the enforcement option is so alluring. Part of it is it's our culture. Our third grade teachers didn't give us feedback about why talking out in class was a problem. They just kept us in from recess. So it's built into our culture deep. So that's part of it. But I think the bigger part is that feedback is a two way street. Feedback opens up the likelihood that I am contributing in some way, and that I may need to look at my own behavior and how I'm part of the system. Feedback that's worthwhile is almost always in the frame of I'm putting myself out there. I'm naming what's true for me and what matters to me and a little bit about where my soft spots are. It's a vulnerable space. So the feedback space is vulnerable space, whereas the enforcement is not. Enforcement as well within our comfort zone. And feedback for most of us is a stretch. In fact, if you're not feeling stretched while you're giving feedback, my guess is you could give better feedback. But really good feedback is almost always a stretch outside that comfort zone. And while we can get better at it and more comfortable, I think honestly, we mostly get more comfortable with the stretch, not that it's less stretching. The result of that is that that we just flip back to the old script of "Well, enforcement is the solution for this," particularly if somebody else enforcing it is the solution to my problem. And so that's where you get the choice. And so as we're thinking of reaching for enforcement, I think if we can really think about how might feedback work here? What is my resistance to it? This was a question that came up in our conversation earlier, too, is why are you resisting? And that's probably another episode. But if we can really engage with, can I be vulnerable? And am I willing to be? And if I'm not, then what does that say about where I value this relationship, and maybe then I go a whole other direction.

Paul:

Yeah, so to track sort of where we've been today, we set it off by saying go listen to Episode 40, where we talk about the costume enforcement and and about how rules don't require us to be vulnerable. And then today, we've explored kind of the flip side of that, and looking at what happens when we actually give people information about the impact of their behavior; how we can leave people a choice about what they actually want to do; our options for choosing to engage or to create boundaries around continued behavior that that we still don't want to interact with; and acknowledging that given really good feedback is hard, because it does require us to be vulnerable in a way that leaning on rules and enforcement isn't. And so pointing to when we can actually let the information flow, not just from us to them, but from them back to us as well, sort of in that two-way street, we have a greater chance of shifting behaviors in ways that are more productive and healthier for everybody involved and also, without incurring costs to the relationship. And in fact, sometimes leaving the relationship even stronger than it was to start with.

Karen:

Yeah, and that's gonna do it for us today. Until next time, I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis. And this has been Employing Differences.