Constructive Dialogue Guidelines: Strength Seeking

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Frame, photo by Janie Hanson.

Thoughtful dialogue is central to Connect the Grey, both internally and in our programs and client work. Effective dialogue establishes trust within groups and separates work from the individual who created it. Structured feedback also helps teams move beyond specific suggestions to create a full plan for the future. 

One of the dangers of criticism is that it tends to skew either too harsh or too soft. When feedback is negative, it can make the person on the receiving end feel embarrassed, defensive, and discouraged. Negative feedback also runs the risk of scrapping an entire idea because it wasn't executed perfectly. But trying to avoid negativity isn't always helpful: If something about a project simply isn't working, it's important to be clear about that, not dance around the truth. 

Establishing that feedback must be "strength seeking" allows it to be both honest and useful. Seeking strength while critiquing someone's work means looking for what they have done well. It means using negative feedback as a jumping-off point instead of a conversation ender: "Here's why X isn't working; now, here's what I think you can do to make it work." It means considering whether a perceived weakness is actually a problem, or whether it could be transformed into an advantage.  

Those receiving feedback can seek strength, too. When you're listening to someone assess your work, it can be easy to beat yourself up or assume they just don't understand. But if you're seeking strength, you can take in criticisms in terms of how they'll help you improve and reach your goals. You can stay open to negative feedback by reminding yourself that your work will be stronger as a result. 

When both sides of the conversation know that they are seeking strength, they have a clear common goal. The feedback becomes about working together for success. 

Strength seeking doesn't have to be confined to formal feedback. Within Connect the Grey, as we hire and partner with new people, it's been important to identify what each of us does well, and to look for ways to play to our strengths and talents. We often talk about how a supposed deficiency can be flipped into an asset. Though we have the luxury of being a young company with a non-hierarchical structure, we believe all leaders and organizations can do the same. 

How do you seek strength in your work and professional relationships? What are some words or phrases you use to give feedback that is strength seeking? 

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