Start owning your perceptions and your feedback will improve

In our last blog post we introduced the ‘parrot on your shoulder’ concept to describe your critical inner dialogue. You can use this device to produce well-formed pieces of feedback. Here’s a brief recap on the steps in the process:

  • Step 1: Identify the situation.
  • Step 2: Identify automatic thoughts – your parrot.
  • Step 3: Analyse your mood in detail – your emotional response.
  • Step 4: Describe the action you took.
  • Step 5: Find objective supportive evidence.
  • Step 6: Find objective contradictory evidence.
  • Step 7: Identify fair and balanced thoughts.
  • Step 8: Monitor your present mood.

When providing constructive feedback, all you need to do is to make sure that you include the first four steps in the cycle (the remaining steps above are for you to do in private, to unstick yourself and free up your ability to handle the situation better).

For example (positive feedback):

“Thank you. I particularly liked the way you dealt with the awkward questions from the supplier.”

What happened/the ‘facts’

“I thought you sounded knowledgeable and confident.”

Interpretation/perception

“I was very pleased and impressed.”

Emotional reaction

“I was able to make my points in the meeting and sound good too.”

Action/effect

Or (negative feedback):

“In our meeting, you kept passing all the questions the buyer asked to me.”

What happened/the facts

“I felt it made me look unprepared and stupid.”

Interpretation/perception

“And I got angry and upset with you.”

Emotional reaction

“So I got flustered and couldn’t answer them sensibly.”

Action/effect

 Some hints:

  • When describing what happened, be careful to choose objective, descriptive language and stick only to observable fact. Take care not to let your opinions or perceptions leak in how you describe the situation.
  • When describing your perceptions, use the word ‘I’ – “I felt it made me look stupid”, not “you made me look stupid”. This is crucial – you are owning your perceptions and not accusing the other person of any intent.
  • Again, describe your emotion as an observer might. Not “you made me angry” but “I became angry”.
  • Stick to describing your perceptions and reactions. Don’t try to describe theirs.
  • It can help if you start to think of your automatic thoughts – your parrot – as in some ways independent of you. After all, you are able to listen to and describe them, aren’t you? With practice, you can learn to identify more with this quiet inner observer than with the passing knee-jerk thoughts you have. And when you get into the habit of challenging your own perceptions for long enough you’ll realise that they are very often not as true as you might initially have thought.

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