This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why is giving unsolicited opinions to colleagues a bad habit you should break? How can you use observational feedback to improve your workplace demeanor?
When you give your unsolicited opinions to your employees, you may be doing more harm than good. This type of feedback may lead to frustration, shame, and even outbursts.
Here is why you should keep unsolicited opinions to yourself.
Giving Unsolicited Feedback
Giving your unsolicited opinion means, in simple terms, giving feedback that someone didn’t ask for or necessarily want. It’s someone telling you that you need to improve in a manner that, to you at least, seems totally unprompted. In reality, your continued bad behavior is probably what triggered the person’s outburst. They probably became so frustrated with the way you were acting that they could no longer keep their opinions to themselves.
For example, imagine you’re hosting a meeting and, for what seems like the hundredth time, you fail to listen to what a colleague is saying. This colleague may finally snap and suddenly call you out for your poor listening skills. This spontaneous “call-out” is unsolicited feedback.
When we receive unsolicited feedback, we’re often completely shocked by the news that someone is upset with our behavior, and may even feel ashamed that our actions have been awful enough to trigger such an unexpected outburst. Goldsmith argues that these emotions may push us to actually change our bad behavior. We may be stunned into realizing that we can’t keep acting in a manner that upsets people this much.
The major downside of this form of feedback is that it usually takes a long time for people to become so frustrated with your behavior that they can no longer hold their tongue. This makes unsolicited feedback very infrequent and therefore unsuitable as a consistent source of information about your bad habits. For this reason, it’s a form of feedback that should probably only be used in conjunction with the others, not by itself.
Observational feedback is feedback about your reputation that you can gain by watching how people behave in your presence. It involves analyzing cues such as people’s body language, their tone of voice, and what they say to you to deduce whether or not you’re well-liked.
For example, if you notice in a meeting that a certain colleague refuses to look you in the eye when you’re talking to them, or responds to all of your ideas in a brusque or rude manner, this would imply that you’ve upset the person in some way. Likewise, if a subordinate constantly acts in a closed-off manner around you—for instance, keeping their arms folded and directing their body away from you—they probably don’t like you very much.
Goldsmith argues that if, after gathering observational feedback, you notice that many people are acting in a way that implies they dislike you, this may be a sign that you’re engaging in a bad habit that’s alienating everyone around you.
The good thing about observational feedback is that you can collect it whenever you encounter another person in the workplace. You can quickly and thoroughly build up a picture of what people think of you.
However, the downside of this type of feedback is that it isn’t very specific. While it may indicate to you that you’re doing something to upset your colleagues, it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. You’ll need to use a different type of feedback to figure out this missing piece of the puzzle.
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