The other day in a planning meeting, a friend of mine suggested an idea for what we were engineering. I didn’t understand why that was necessary and it seemed like it might make things too complicated. I mostly wanted to understand why he thought it was necessary. He’s a smart, talented engineer and I respect him. Moreover, we usually see things similarly so I challenged the necessity of the idea fairly strongly, hoping he would give a staunch defense. Instead I could tell he was getting offended but I didn’t understand why. We talked some more in the meeting, but instead of encouraging the idea, I had unintentionally shut it down.
Later on, I went to try to understand why I had offended him. He told me that I came across as condescending and that I was telling him that his idea was stupid without even understanding it. I apologized for coming across that way and reiterated that my intent was actually just to understand it by challenging it, that I certainly don’t think my ideas are all great. I’m often wrong and I fully expected he would set me straight. Moreover, I reiterated that I think very highly of his ability. Not surprisingly, the more I thought about it, his idea had merit and was something that we needed to consider.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than I wished. I feel like I know how I come across and try to self edit, but many times we are completely oblivious. We need others to not only tell us when our ideas are wrong, but also to tell us when our way of expressing our ideas is wrong too (even if they are the right ideas). Knowing how helpful this kind of feedback is to me, I’ve offered similar feedback to others who sometimes come across in a gruff manner. Almost always, instead of being offended by the feedback, they were grateful because they didn’t mean to come across this way and it helped them communicate better.
Sometimes as friends, we can help others communicate better by being brave enough to tell people their manner of communication isn’t working. Sometimes the reminders have to come more than once. And if someone ever comes to us with similar feedback, we should seriously consider it because they’re probably right.