The Alternative to the S**T Sandwich, this Time in Writing

At the beginning of each year (or whenever your company does organisation wide feedback) you are asked the dreaded questions about your colleagues. “What are they good at?” “How can they improve?”

Most people tend to get offended or hung up about the responses they receive from colleagues on the second question (“How can they improve?”).

Let’s imagine you’ve just received your feedback from colleagues and there it is, the anonymous comment that says: “you were thoroughly unhelpful at the last meeting. I wished you cared more about this project”.

“Who said this? What meeting are they talking about? How was I unhelpful?” all of these questions, and others, will start flooding your mind as you read this written, anonymous feedback and you might even start to feel a bit paranoid about it. This happens because your brain feels threatened (the amygdala, the survival part of the brain, and the default mode network in our brains) for two key reasons:

1. It feels like a personal attack against your (physical) safety (the brain can’t distinguish very well between verbal attacks and physical attacks)

2. It does not understand where this comes from, yet it knows it is negative, therefore it is a threat.

What can you do about it?

Here is a formula for answering this question in a way that minimises the chances of your colleague getting offended whilst you still can be clear about what you want to say:

Simplest Version: “When X happened, you did Y. This affected you / me / us in Z way. In this situation, it would have helped if ABC was done instead.”

Gold Standard Version:

1. “When X situation and XX action happened, you did Y. I can imagine this affected you in Z way and that’s why you did Y.

2. (Optional: The way that affected me/us/them was ZZ way.)

3. In order to prevent Z issue from happening again, it might be useful for you to do Alpha.

4. The way you can do this is by first doing Beta and then Gama.

5. I hope this prevents you getting affected again in Z way.”

For example:

1. “When we were in the Samsung project update meeting (X) and I said I needed your update on the project progress (XX), you said: “there’s nothing to report” (Y). I can imagine you might not have expected this question so you felt put on the spot (Z) and that’s why you said “there’s nothing to report” (Y).

2. (The way that affected me was that I wasn’t able to report to the Product Manager on the state of the features (ZZ).)

3. In order to prevent you feeling or being put on the spot again (Z), it might be useful for you to spend 2 min before every meeting thinking about what you might have to say in the meeting (Alpha).

4. The way you can do this is by first thinking about the purpose of the meeting (in this case, project updates) (Beta) and then thinking about some questions that could come up for you (Gama).

5. I hope this prevents you from being put on the spot in meetings (Z).

What other tips and tricks do you have for helping colleagues improve?



Adelina Chalmers a.k.a The Geek Whisperer

Helps Engineers who are Leaders (CEO/ CTO/ VP) get buy-in from their peers/teams/investors by transforming Communication techniques into Algorithms