Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Communication

Intent and Impact Aren't Always Equal

We're only two weeks into Little League season as I write this, and already I'm getting steamed. Go with me to these recent events at my grandsons' ballgames.

The eager players have scrambled and gotten the hitter out at first base, while another player made it to second. Loud yell from a well-meaning (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt) Paw-Paw: "Why didn't you get a double play?"

Other select quotes: "Wake up out there!" "Pitcher, don't throw it away! Get it over the plate!" "Aw! What's the matter with you?"

Now imagine, you're that little guy out on the field. You're trying hard, very hard. It's not like you just got up this morning and decided, "Today I'm going to throw the ball wrong, strike out, and miss a double play." When you do it, it's painful. The last thing you need is a booming voice from the stands chastising you!

Did Paw-Paw come to the game with the intention of discouraging these players? I really don't think so. I think that he sincerely wanted them to win. Yet, even with a positive intent, a negative impact can result.

These incidents reminded me of another true story that Judy Denson and I recorded in our book, KidSpiration: Out of the Mouths of Babes.

Five-year-old Lance was playing his first T-ball game. He swung...WHACK! Lance started to run...first base, second base...the crowd went wild! As he rounded third, he could hear those words loudly and clearly: "Go home, Lance, go home!"

Instead of heading for home plate, the little guy held up, his steps faltering, his lips quivering, his heart aching. Then came the final blow; they tagged him out!

He headed toward the gate with their words still ringing in his ears. With all the courage he could muster, he turned and yelled back at the crowd, "OK, I WILL go home!"

The crowd had every intention to cheer him on, but at this stage in his baseball career, Lance didn't have the experience to realize that they were encouraging him to keep running. He thought they were trying to boot him off the field!

How often does this happen to us? Most of us have no desire to be cruel or discouraging. We want to help. However, from the boardroom to the classroom to the living room, from the sales floor to the hospital clinical floor to the shop floor, the principles are the same. If you want to give feedback that is encouraging and helpful, honor these three principles.

1. Focus on what's right, not on what's wrong.

First and foremost, notice, encourage, and "cheer" what the person is doing right. When you are a "coach" of any type, throw your perfectionism out the window. Pay attention to small steps of improvement. Then and only then will you be able to add constructive criticism that is received as helpful. You will have built relationship and respect, and that goes a long way.

2. Be specific, not general.

General negative comments, especially if they feel like a personal insult, only create injuries and build walls. They give no real information about what needs to change.

Here are a few examples: "Can't you do anything right?""Can't you do anything right?" "Quit being so lazy." "Why don't you try harder?"

Better: "That was a good strong swing. The ball was over your shoulders, though. Swing only when it's in this zone...from here to here."

"When that customer was complaining loudly, you raised your voice, too. It's essential that you keep your own voice tone low and helpful. That way, even an angry customer may eventually calm down and you can get the problem solved."

"Last night, you came in at 11:20...20 minutes past your curfew. Neither did you call and let me know you were having a delay. I want to be able to relax and trust that you will honor our agreements. That means, 11:00...or, on rare occasions, a phone call explaining why you'll be late. That way, you will get more freedom and privileges."

3. Use good timing.

People are most able to receive constructive criticism when they are not exhausted, upset, pressured, or confused. It is usually not best to try to give an "instructional lesson" in the middle of a big crisis. Get through it. Then, in a quiet setting, debrief it in a positive and helpful way. Explore with the individual what we might be able to do differently in a similar situation in the future.

In effective communication, intent equals impact. Unfortunately, this happens far too rarely.

More often, the process can be summed up in a familiar communication quote: "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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