Monday, June 29, 2009 by Dave Blum

My wife and I had a fight yesterday morning — one of those domestic spats that every couple has now and again.  It went something like this:

Jen:  When you slid the extra leaf back into the dining room table, did you clean it first?

Dave:  Yes, I did.  I ran a sponge across it.

Jen: But look, there’s frosting on it from the cake I made on Saturday.

Dave: Yeah, well, I didn’t see that.  When I wiped it off, it looked clean.

Jen:  But there’s frosting all over it.  There…and there…and there.  If we want this table to last
for a long time, we have to keep it in good condition.

Dave:  Listen, I told you, when I wiped it, it looked clean.  I only closed up the table in the first place because it was too big for the two of us to sit at for breakfast, and I wanted us to have an nice, intimate meal.

Jen:  Okay, but you’re not hearing me.  If you’re going to clean it, clean it right.


What was going on here, and how might it be relevant not only to personal relationships but also to interactions in the workplace?

Clearly, Jen was trying to give me feedback that would help us, as a couple, maintain our furniture (and hence save money).  On the flipside, I was feeling under-appreciated; Jen didn’t seem to be acknowledging my efforts (albeit unsuccessful) to do my share of the housework and to create a convivial environment.   How could we have navigated this conversation more skillfully?

During our after-fight/make-up talk, we discovered some helpful new information about ourselves.  For example, I don’t need a half-dozen “thank you’s” when I do something.  What I require is an acknowledgement that I tried, that I made the effort.  In other words, what I was looking for was recognition that I had a positive intention.  And I’m sure I’m not alone on this.  Whether at home or at work, people want others to know that they’ve tried, with the best of intentions. Once their intentions have been acknowledged, they’re generally willing to hear about the impact of their performance.   If Jen and I could roll back the clock, our conversation might have gone like this:

Jen:  I appreciate your intention of cleaning and stowing away the extra leaf of the table.

Dave:  Thanks Hon.  Just trying to help out.

Jen:  It was really kind of you. And do you mind if I give a little feedback about the job you did?

Dave:  Sure–shoot away.

Jen:  Well, there’s still some frosting on the table.  The impact of that is the table might be damaged and we’ll have to replace it sooner rather than later.

Dave:  Wow, I really did try to clean it.

Jen:  And again, I appreciate your intention. It was super sweet.  And in the future, if you can bring just a little more attention to detail, everyone wins.

Feedback is important!  If someone doesn’t speak up in the workplace, then procedures will never be improved, products will never reach their highest levels of quality.  My general recommendation regaring giving feedback is simply this:

FIRST acknowledge people’s positive intentions, THEN outline the impact, THEN suggest steps for improvement:
1) Intention
2) Impact
3) Improvement

Try it–it works!