Here’s how this can occur during a workday. Let’s say you have someone, Tim, with bad breath and it’s affecting how other people want to work with that person. You’ve noticed it today, and it’s affecting you. You decide to provide Tim with feedback right now.
“Tim, do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure, what about?”
“Let’s get a conference room where we can talk in private.” The two of you walk into a conference room.
“Tim, I’ve noticed that when we sit together side by side to work on the stories for this product, I can smell your breath. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this, but I thought you’d want to know. The reason I’m telling you is that I’m finding it difficult to work with you. I wanted to get this out in the open. Is there something we can do?”
Notice that you didn’t blame Tim for his breath. You didn’t tell him not to eat garlic. You did tell him that you were having trouble working with him. You asked him for a change.
Most people, when they receive feedback like this, are a little embarrassed, too. They almost always thank the person who provides the feedback, and they often ask for more data. “I had no idea. Does this happen all the time?”
“Well, I just noticed it today.”
“Oh, maybe if I chew some gum that will help. Will you tell me if it happens again?”
“Sure, no problem. How would you like me to tell you?”
Now you have a solution and way to address the problem in the future. You weren’t comfortable, but you both lived through the feedback.
Direct feedback is best. If you leave a bottle of mouthwash on someone’s desk, that person will not understand the problem.
People Need Knowledge
Sometimes, people don’t know that they need training to change what they are doing. You can provide feedback and ask if they need training.
It’s the same problem and solution if someone breaks the build. “Lisa, you broke the build three times this week, on Monday at 2pm, Tuesday at 4pm, and Wednesday at 10am. When you break the build, it slows everyone down. What can we do about this?”
“Oh, is that a problem?”
“Yes, it is. We have an agreement here that we are not allowed to break the build. First you build on your machine, make sure everything works, and then you can check in. Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Ooh. I wonder what else you don’t know. Let’s review a couple more things.”
Maybe Lisa knew and she forgot. Maybe no one ever explained these team norms. But now she knows. Now she can be successful. You might need to provide other training as your systems evolve.