A friend in publishing once told me that magazines charge substantially more for full page advertisements on the right hand pages. Why is that?
If a room full of people are asked to point to where they visualise the past over three quarters will point to their left. If they are then asked to point to the future the same people are overwhelmingly likely to point to their right.
Many of us associate aspects of the past with difficult or unpleasant things and are more likely to be positive and optimistic about the future. If we imagine the past being to the left and the future being to our right, then the right hand side is going to be the place where good feelings of optimism and reward are likely to be found.
The phrase ‘difficult conversation’ has developed are series of variations such as ‘challenging conversation’, ‘daring dialogue’ or ‘courageous conversation’. In essence this is the conversation that we don’t look forward to because we are going to have to deliver some uncomfortable feedback to a colleague or student. A rather well-worn approach to that dialogue is the praise sandwich: start with a few positives, slip in the negatives and wrap up with a few more positives. Successful if done well but disastrous when done badly. An alternative is the opening question ‘So, how do you feel that went?’, which can open a path for the respondent to be open about the issues; but equally can make things worse if their response demonstrates that they believe everything is fine.
Spatial anchoring offers another technique that helps feedback to be appreciated and acted on. We all gesture when talking and in giving feedback to a colleague or student a common gesture is the sort of cupping, weighing up, hand movements. Try making that gesture with your right hand (the other person’s left hand side) when you are delivering the more critical aspects of the feedback. Then use your left hand (their right hand side) when sharing the positive and developmental aspects of the conversation. By doing this you are spatially linking, or anchoring, the feedback in the other person’s past and future.
This technique can be particularly powerful with young people as they tend to have a more positive regard for the future. Helps to lift the issues from being personal ones and it provides a technique that can help you focus on the balance of constructive criticism and positive reinforcement in your feedback.