Be direct or be gone

Note:  This post was first published a little over one year ago.

I find it to be as valuable today as it was then.


Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it?  At another point of my life I would have agreed, but the older I get, make that the more experienced, the more I subscribe to this notion of working with others.

The phrase “if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” has been part of the vernacular of many people, myself included, for many years.  The phrase “killing others with kindness” is more true than you might imagine.  This makes me think about many of the episodes I have been watching of Downton Abbey, a wonderful show on PBS that I choose to watch on my own time through Amazon Prime.

The characters from Downton have killing with kindness down to an art.  Let’s explore a few reasons that being kind always is wrong for you and for those you work with:

  1. People need direct, honest feedback when they make a mistake
  2. Giving someone the wrong message will only lend support to them making the same mistakes again
  3. Timely and appropriate intervention can be a lifesaver when working with others in the workplace or anyplace

Feedback, not just kindness, is the best recipe when working with others.  Feedback can be positive, negative or even neutral.  Here are some ideal times to provide feedback:

  • A situation arises where something goes wrong
  • A great thing has just taken place
  • An unusual situation arises, something that has never been encountered before

Each of the situations above require feedback, but the type and method of administration will vary.  Here are some examples:

  • When positive feedback is appropriate, be sure to provide this feedback in front of others if it is really a praise.  People need to be recognized and supported when they do the right thing and doing this as a support in front of their peers and co-workers can be very powerful
  • Negative feedback should always be done in private unless the situation is more of a “learning opportunity” for an entire group.  When providing this negative feedback it is best to not single out people unless they are continually making this or other mistakes repeatedly.  If that is the case then the feedback will need to be even more direct and much more private.
  • Neutral feedback may be delivered in a group setting when it provides a learning opportunity.  If in doubt, give it in private.

Another key aspect of giving feedback is to use the following model:  Situation-Behavior-Impact.  I first learned this model from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in the late 1990’s and it is as useful today as it was then.  Here is a quick rundown of SBI:

Situation-What was happening-what is the context of the feedback?

Behavior-What happened and what did the person do-be specific.

Impact-As a result of the behavior describe the impact both personally and what was perceived/reported by others.

SBI can be a very powerful tool, but just like any tool, it can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

Being nice to others can be the perfect response when that is what the situation calls for.

Don’t kill others with kindness.  Give them new life with feedback.