Do we make enough allowances?
The day after I spoke at an event about persuasion, advising people to double-check things in order to not ‘look stupid’ and to keep the receiver’s attention un-distracted, I sent the handouts with a faulty link. It was a technical glitch, but they weren’t to know…
One chap kindly replied with my favourite “Hate it when that happens,*smiley face*”!
How do you usually respond when:
- Someone makes a typo or forgets the attachment?
- Someone cites a fact or recalls a scenario, but incorrectly?
- With the best intentions, someone innocently sends the wrong information?
Could we be more forgiving?
When don’t we make allowances?
Imagine, whenever you sent an email, you knew the grammar police were watching. Worse perhaps, what if you WERE the grammar police?.. that, when communicating with you, someone was so worried about what you’re thinking that they lost focus?
It’s what happens when we crumble in presentations. Most of us have been there, haven’t we? We’re so keen to make a good impression, but petrified the audience won’t like us or what we have to say, that it interrupts our ability to perform.
We’ve all experienced moments when people haven’t made allowances.
I remember tech issues mucking up a slideshow as I continued out of synch, powerless to get back on track. Once this became comical the audience found it endearing. But another time it skewed the formatting, and was all one delegate could feed back about – and they weren’t gentle.
Taking it to the extreme
When someone was referred to as a ‘snappy-dressed Indian’ – to point them out in a room full of people – someone else complained it was racist. As a result, the speaker felt the need to consult a lawyer when the CEO also decided it was a racist slur. The person in question was flattered, and confirmed “But I am Indian.” The lawyer diagnosed a case of extreme political correctness rather than racism. In this organisation race was tip-toed around – mostly because people didn’t know what they could say. But it also meant that any mention, or appreciation of, race was met with finger-pointing.
When we know protocol and someone else doesn’t follow it, we can blow it out of proportion to judge it frustrating or careless.
A common irritant is when someone insists, in meetings or just around an open plan office, on correcting someone’s grammar or making belittling rectifications to what’s just been said. They may be correct, but it undermines and can annihilate goodwill.
What happens when we do make allowances?
- With a little understanding and eager listening, people may confide more about what’s happening at home – perhaps enabling us to support them in a briefly stressful domestic period.
- A gentle approach to frequent mistakes can uncover a hidden problem with workload, or need for development.
- Acknowledging that we all make mistakes can help maintain and grow strong relationships.
Feedback is important, in whatever shape – after all, we’re not psychic. But when it’s unforgiving, it’s memorable for the wrong reasons. Mostly, we know we mess up, and being belittled for it makes it harder to move on. Alongside the memory of the important message is a negative one of the messenger, especially when it hurts. And who wants to be in that line of fire?
When we talk about learning to give feedback, we also say “pick your battles” when it comes to bad news. We don’t have to voice our opinion if there’s nothing we’ll gain or put right, and it’s better to build up credits with people – constantly complaining won’t win friends. More influential is choosing the occasional clash or correction in a considered and considerate fashion.
If we’re kinder in the way we perceive people, if we give them the benefit of the doubt, if we accept people are human and have off days, then it’s much more likely we’ll make allowances.
And just in case it seems impossible not to correct people, see them as repeatedly at fault or just plain irritating – it’s worth remembering that there’s a theory that we’re most wound up by people like ourselves. So before we set to our critique – a look in the mirror might not go amiss.
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