Giving Feedback? Changing One Small Word Can Make All the Difference

Have you ever noticed how irritating it can be when someone points out our errors?

At home we might hear: “You forgot to sweep the floor again.”

At work you may be told: “You missed citing the leading authority on this issue.”


It’s never pleasant to be called out on our mistakes. And if the message triggers a stress response, the hormones released inhibit our ability to reflect and reason for a time.

One key to working effectively in teams, with an assistant, or delegating tasks is to learn to provide feedback in a way that supports the individual’s learning and growth. Mastering how to give feedback effectively is a valuable skill.

William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No, writes:

“A natural human tendency is to point a finger at the person: ‘The product was delayed because your team took so long to get organized and because you made too many changes.’ Such you-statements, however, naturally make the other feel defensive and reactive.

A more neutral and effective way to get the same information across is to replace you with the. Here’s an example: ‘The product got delayed as a result of the many changes that were made.’ The-statements avoid conflating the person with the behavior. The-statements are a simple yes to the facts. No blame, no judgment, just the straight facts.” (Positive No, p. 105)

This month notice the difference when instead of focusing the feedback on the person, you zero in on the facts.

Here’s an example:

  • You-statement: “The negotiation stalled because you took two weeks to respond to the emails and phone messages and then you changed your mind about the outcome you were after.”
  • The-statement of facts: “The negotiation stalled because of delays in responses and the change in the desired outcome.”

In a case where a legal assistant has made an error on a document:

  • You-statement: “You missed updating the dollar value on this settlement letter.”
  • The-statement of facts: “The settlement letter does not have the updated dollar value.”

This small shift from you to the can make a big impact.

This week, watch for opportunities to exchange you with the-statements and notice the impact this has on the effectiveness of your communication.


This post originally appeared in the Lawyer With A Life Blog.

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