What do you say when a colleague asks, “Can we debrief? What do you think I could have done better?”
Whether it be a difficult case, a challenging meeting, or an uncomfortable interpersonal interaction, it’s good to have a strategy to assist.
But this can be thorny, because sometimes we were there too—we’re entwined. It’s easy to get lost in the details of our own experience of what occurred and what we could have done better—but this is not about us.
We have an opportunity to help our colleague step up onto the balcony to consider what happened during their experience on the dance floor? The following mnemonic will help you get out of your own brain to prompt an even approach to post-event debriefing.
The mnemonic for post-event debriefing is MERDE. Merde is a naughty word in French. However, it’s also a word that ballet dancer’s utter to each other before performing on the dance floor—similar to “break a leg.” It is the “break a leg” connotation that I prefer—but sometimes, the former fits perfectly.
A Coaching Approach
I prefer to approach debriefing discussions as a coach and a teacher, rather than as a mentor. As a coach, we ask questions to help our colleague reflect upon their experience, behaviors, and decision-making. And when we teach we provide new information to encourage learning. Whereas when we mentor, we share what we, the mentor, saw and what we would have done differently given our subject-matter expertise. Each of these “hats” is helpful—but, coaching is the best strategy to prompt internal reflection and a chance for growth. Coaching also allows us to stay out of our own head.
M: State of Mind.
So much of how we experience our day depends upon our state of mind. At the same time, as our day progresses our state of mind changes. We may start the day on a high note and somewhere in the middle get knocked down.
We can ask our colleague a simple question, “what are your thoughts about what happened?” perhaps followed by “how was your state of mind?” Questions give our colleague an opportunity to step up onto the balcony to think about how they make sense of the situation.
We may add our observation of the event. For example, “I noticed your level of energy changed…” or “you seemed upset…” This invites discussion of how emotions and behaviors affect experience.
Sometimes we bring a disturbed mindset into situations. We are hungry or tired. We need to pause. Things happen at home, we receive an email, or someone messages us. So, let’s ask about other experiences leading up to and surrounding the event.
As they debrief, we witness their sensemaking, we reflect it back to them, and we help them connect with their state of mind.
Throughout our lives we encounter gaps in knowledge and skills. These gaps are a normal part of uncomfortable situations. We can address this with our colleague.
We ask, “As you think about what happened, what would you like to have understood better?” Or, “what gaps in your own knowledge might have played a part?” These gaps may be related to familiarity and expertise with a process, skill, and/or understanding of facts and information.
On the other hand, there are things we know that others do not. We can ask, “what gaps did you sense others had in their knowledge of what occurred?”
It may turn out that the gaps are not in education, but rather a misunderstanding of different perspectives.
How we get along with others affects our own well-being and effectiveness, and that of our teams. What does our colleague notice in their relationship with others around the event?
“I noticed [the following tone, facial impression, gesture]:
- during your phone call with [this person], or
- when you were approached [in this manner], or
- as you gave orders during [this situation]
What are your thoughts about what happened?”
In what ways did interpersonal dynamics affecting their experience? Do they feel safe? How will it change relationships in the future?
Documentation such as letters, memos, voicemails, charting, and emails play a part in how we communicate. Each is a prime opportunity for reflection.
Probe for an understanding by asking: “What do you think about your documentation of the event?”
On the other hand, our colleague’s instinct may be to respond to the event through documentation. So, we could ask: “What do you think would be the best way to follow-up on this?”
Multitasking and inefficient process set us up to fail. It is helpful to reflect on how barriers to efficiency impact experience.
- “I noticed that [these people] were repeatedly having to ask you for [next steps].”
- “What was your sense of how that meeting was run?”
- “How might you improve efficiency the next time this occurs?”
MERDE gives a roadmap to guide post-event debriefing. It provides a grounded way to help a colleague reflect on what occurred and how they make sense of the experience to move forward.