Why Do We Feel Better if the Wording is Changed?
“There is no doubt that bringing elements of the US strategic arsenal close to Russian territory could be used to weaken our deterrent potential,” the Russian foreign ministry said. “…in such a situation the Russian side will take appropriate measures to compensate for potential created for threats to its national security”
Now I did a degree in Politics. Scary times, but not the point of this post.
A few minutes after reading the above in the FT, I opened up a letter about my subscription to the Times. They used to send ‘Timesaver’ tokens through with the vouchers. A perk of the subscription, it meant that I didn’t need to collect vouchers for anyspecial offers available. The letter said ‘You may notice that Timesaver Tokens are no longer included. We are continually working on new ways in which to deliver special promotions to you…..’
Yesterday I spent most of my time giving 360 degree feedback to my line reports at Madgex. We use a tool called My3Things which I based on a brilliant ‘rapid’ feedback tool from a guy called Matt Clarke from beyondnowhere UK. He worked with the finance team when I was at Sainsbury’s.
The feedback tool asks the person giving the feedback to give three things they’ve really noticed about the person they’re giving feedback to. And three things they’d love to see more of.
Now you may be asking yourself whether I’ve gone mad. What do these three things have in common?
One thing actually. The way in which we can use language and communication to make difficult messages easier to accept. But not just this. The key to it is for me that we know that the language is being modified to enable a more palatable response. It’s not that the hidden meaning is all that hidden. But my contention is that something happens. We feel better about the framing of the information/ question/ communication (in most cases…)
My3Things doesn’t ask for positives and negatives. It avoids all the classic HR errors in feedback methodologies for me by simply using the words ‘more of’ (I personally think the use of the word ‘love’ also tips it into a nice place ;-)
The Russian foreign ministry is perfectly clear in what it means, but the use of such contorted language softens the blow in a weird way (for me)
TheTimes language smacks of a bit more arrogance. The whole existence of a more superior offer (in my mind) is swept under the carpet in ten words with a full stop.
I don’t know whether the ‘effort’ or thought/ intent of the parties involved in softening the communication blow through language helps, but it’s fascinating (or maybe just to me ;-)
I agree that small changes in wording can make a big difference to the people giving 360 Feedback and those receiving it. Words are incredibly powerful and, as you’ve pointed out, can make us feel different on an emotional level, even if we know what the message is really saying.
At Track we’ve found that asking respondents to state
Things you’d like your colleague to Start Doing
Things you’d like your colleague to Stop Doing, and
Things you’d like your colleague to Continue Doing
is a great way to get respondents to focus on specific behaviours, ensure they balance the negative with positive (Stop and Continue), and also provide signposts or suggestions (Start).
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