Feedback is Context-Dependent

When I teach coaching or feedback skills, I teach them in the context of work. At work, as long as the feedback is about the work, or the work relationships, or it’s a question of safety, feedback is appropriate. Coaching, as long as it’s about work behavior is appropriate.

But a funny thing happened to me yesterday, when I didn’t give feedback. Mark and I had been at the beach celebrating one of the few sunny weekend days this summer. We were leaving, and I was all set to use the public showers. The showers are outside, three shower heads around the top of a post. There’s room for three people at each of the three posts. The dressing areas are single-person and private.

As I walked toward the showers, a man approached the showers wearing small white underwear. I have to admit, I am not current with all of male underwear styles, but this was close to a thong. There’s a problem when white underwear gets wet–it becomes transparent. I don’t know if he didn’t realize it, or he didn’t care. I did, but I kept quiet. I was quite uncomfortable (!) and just stood at another shower to rinse the salt off.

I asked Mark later, what he would have done. He wasn’t sure. That’s when I realized if either of my daughters had been with me, I would have verbally pushed that guy back into the dressing area. That’s because the context moves from “two adults who can ignore each other” to “an adult being not quite appropriate in front of younger people.” That’s an issue of personal safety.

I felt uncomfortable, but not unsafe. As soon as the context changed, it would have been necessary for me to give the man feedback. I could have said something like this. “Hi. I don’t know if you realize this, but your underwear has turned transparent in the water. I’m not comfortable. Can you please put something else on?” I suspect, that in a public area, as this was, many men would change what they were wearing based on that statement.

If you’re worried about giving feedback at work, don’t be. Look at the context. Make sure you talk to the other person, providing non-judgmental data (transparent underwear), explain the impact with “I” statements, and ask for a change in behavior. It’s not difficult once you practice. (See here for the feedback “recipe”.)

Feedback at work is almost always easier than telling a man his parts are showing. Well, for me it is. But, if you want to enhance your working relationships, and make sure everyone is working well and in a safe way, feedback is necessary. Practice it. Even with the guys at the beach.

One Reply to “Feedback is Context-Dependent”

  1. Beach nudity on Managing Product Development – love it! I think your feedback style might have been a bit wordy in a full-frontal situation – but I appreciate the thought đŸ˜‰

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