The other day I emailed John, a client, a description of a new seminar I am creating for him. He wrote back:
Thanks for your creativity. I like what you have created so far.
May I suggest the following modification?
After that question, he suggested a specific change in the seminar title.
John was following an essential principle of giving feedback:
Before suggesting a change or giving constructive (negative) feedback, establish a positive climate by making at least one sincere, positive comment.
When I read the words “your creativity” and “I like what you have created,” I felt pleased. John had recognized my good work. At that point, I was ready to hear about changes he wanted from me.
When writers do not take time to say something sincere and positive, they risk defensiveness and disagreement from the other person. Here is what John might have written if he had not been careful about the way he was communicating:
Lynn, I got your email. The title doesn’t work. Can we change it to this? [followed by a new title]
Here is another ineffective opening:
Lynn, thanks for your work. Don’t you think the title is a little too broad? Please come up with something different.
Both of the examples above communicate, but they don’t communicate well. I would respond to them–but without joy or enthusiasm.
The current issue of our newsletter, Better Writing at Work, is all about effective ways of giving feedback in writing.