Mindfulness Exercises

Structuring an Improvement Conversation

By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

“The term “feedback” has (be)come an euphemism for criticizing others, as in ‘the boss gave me feedback on my presentation.’ This use of feedback is not what we mean (…) Avoid describing the criticism you give or receive to others as feedback. Telling someone your opinion does not constitute feedback…” — John Sterman, MIT Professor of System Dynamics

When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. That’s why an effective performance conversation starts way before you meet your counterpart.

You must come with the right spirit and the right information. You need to remind yourself that the goal is to improve performance and not tell the other what he’s doing right or wrong.

Of course, to improve the performance, the relationship and the well-being of both of you, you must convey information about the impact of your counterpart’s behavior on the goal and on you. But to maximize the value of this information you need to share it non-judgmentally.

You need to remind yourself further that just as you have reasons, so does your counterpart. Both of you have something to contribute. Thus, if you want to improve collaboratively, you would be better served using “safe” (non-exclusionary) language such as, “I would like…”, and not dangerous language such as, “You should…” And you would be also better served not only advocating for your view, but also inquire about your counterpart’s perspective.

I suggest also that you complement your emotional preparation with a rational argument. If you want to explain to the other person what works well for you and what doesn’t work so well in a way they can understand, you have to give them evidence.

People understand when they get facts, when they get reasons, and when they connect the facts and the reasons with the shared goal. That’s the logical  argument you must prepare in advance.

Of course, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. When you meet the other person, your logic is going to be challenged and complemented by the logic of the other.


Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here

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About the Author Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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  • Arie Tzvieli says:

    I think that one giving a feedback should start with what they have learned from the situation, such as that they were not aware of their expectation and/or did not communicate them fully, so the problem starts with them. Only then can they share what they have learned, what their expectations are, and make this a contribution to better performance of both sides in the future.
    Also, people can’t (in general) make the distinction between themselves and their performance, and this applies to the one receiving the feedback and the one sharing it, so before sharing cleanse this mis-perception from your mind.
    Before giving anything that could be considered negative feedback, do find a few (7?) things that are positive, and only after this preparation share the negative, preferably again sharing positive feedback after the negative, because we remember best the last points. This goes and in hand with repeating that the shared goal is to get better performance for everyone involved, so the receiver and others will enjoy better environment and better performance.
    Best if before sharing the feedback create some love to the other person.

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