Dear Elpha: During a leadership feedback loop, it was suggested that I need to embrace living in the gray. What does that mean?Featured

✨Dear Elpha✨ is a new series where we feature a question submitted by one of you (can be anonymous!) with thoughtful advice from our pool of experts.

Q: During a leadership feedback loop, it was suggested that I need to embrace living in the gray. I would like to know what that means. I feel like I am flexible and stay on my commitments while also having fluidity for pivoting as needed. I am a Director of Product in software. – In The Gray

In the fourth edition of Dear Elpha (check out the first, second, and third), we’re excited to feature advice from @anemari and @cristinastam:

Dear In The Gray,

In my opinion, the feedback "embrace living in the gray" suggests that there may be a desire for you to become more comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and situations that don't have clear-cut answers. As a leader, there will be a lot of instances where decisions are not straightforward, and solutions may require navigating through complexity and ambiguity.

While you mention that you feel flexible and committed to your commitments with the ability to pivot as needed, there may be a perception that there's room for improvement in handling situations that are less defined or involve more ambiguity.

A reflection exercise can be helpful in this situation: think about how you react when things are ambiguous and what, from your behaviour in those moments, might make them give you this feedback.

The only way to know for sure is to seek specific examples or clarification from those who provided the feedback to understand the context and identify concrete areas for improvement. Engaging in a dialogue with your leadership or team members can help you gain more insights and adapt your approach to better align with the expectations of "living in the grey" in your role as a Director of Product in software.

- Anemari Fiser, Engineering Leader and Certified Career Coach at AF

Dear Elpha,

It sounds to me like you already have your own interpretation of what embracing living in the gray means. And that's perfectly fair and valid!

The fact that you are seeking guidance and/or validation on your interpretation makes sense given the highly subjective nature of “embracing” something.

But the only person who can truly create clarity for you in this situation is the one who made the suggestion in the first place. What you can do is help them create this clarity by simply asking: “what does embracing living in the gray mean to you? Can you give an example?”

Clarifying feedback and making it land is a shared responsibility of both the giver and the receiver.

I strongly encourage you to confidently ask for clarifications next time you face ambiguous suggestions.

Remember, at the receiving end of the feedback you have three options: Discard, Accept, and Act.

If the person giving you feedback needs you to accept and act on it, they need to put in the effort to make it actionable - factual, concrete, accompanied by examples.

A tool I always recommend for discussing and clarifying feedback is the Experience Cube coined by Gervase Bushe. This is a communication framework that boils down to expressing feedback using the following flow of elements: Observations (objective facts) -> Your thoughts on the facts -> Your feelings related to the thoughts (optional) -> Your expectations.

How these can sound:

👀 Observations: “I’ve noticed…”, “I saw that…”, “I heard you say…”

💭 Thoughts: “I believe that was…”, “I think it is…”, “My story is…”

💟 Emotions: “I’m really pleased….”, “It concerned me when….”, “It made me happy….”, “It troubled me ….”

🥅 Wants: “I want to…”; “I need…”; “I wish…”, “I hope…”

Good luck!

- Cristina Stam, Founder at The Kind Code


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