Stop the Bus! Inclusion in Feedback

What is all this about a bus? No matter where we go these days, it is hard not to hear about the bus, and the reference is rarely good. When we betray people or disparage them, we throw them under the bus. When we go to the other extreme—taking responsibility that is not ours to take—we jump in front of the bus. People who receive non-constructive feedback often feel hit by the bus.

Perhaps we need to park the bus.

Consider the issue of feedback. All of us can use constructive, affirming feedback on our work performance. More than anything else, this kind of input helps us grow in our positions, develop our skills, and do our best work.

But many feedback sessions reach a point at which constructive feedback starts to morph into something else. Perhaps the comments turn subtly from evaluating the work to judging the person. Perhaps the tone of voice takes on an emotional edge. Maybe the point being discussed goes on one comment too long, or the room just goes quiet and the tension rises. In any event, the intended recipient of the input shifts from openness to defensiveness, and the situation suddenly becomes uncomfortable. Sometimes these shifts take place before anyone notices.

How can we notice the shifts when they happen? How can we stop the bus before it hits anyone? Inclusive Behaviors can help on both sides of the interaction. When we are givers of feedback, being fully engaged enables us to pick up on shifts in tone and the feeling in the room earlier than we normally would. By paying attention to other people’s cues—body language, tone of voice, reactions—we become more aware of the total environment, which enables us to ensure that it supports inclusion and stops the bus from rolling. By sharing our feedback as an ally (and listening as an ally after we share it), we place ourselves in a position of standing with the recipient, not against the recipient.

We can also use the Inclusive Behaviors as recipients of feedback. By speaking up when we feel hit by the bus (or sense that others have), we can address our misunderstandings and resolve our disagreements right away, instead of letting them fester and creating more momentum for the bus to roll on. KJCG’s Pinch Model can play a role here by providing a proven format for working through conflicts.

Moreover, separating the work from the person can remove the sting. If people perform badly at a task, it does not make them bad people: it simply means they were not at their best at that moment, doing that job. It turns the experience into a learning moment, which can help them continuously improve and ensure that the next time they complete the task they bring their best work. This may seem obvious, but it is difficult to remember in the midst of a conflict or crisis. The separation of person and task also reminds us that no work is the domain of any one individual: it is our work, our success, our failure.

If we start with these simple steps, we can get closer to fulfilling another Inclusive Behavior: creating a safe space for ourselves and others. That enables us to get on the bus—together—to “drive” it toward the common good and shared success.