One day, in the forest clearing, a sparrow saw a turtle wheezing, tired from collecting sticks to build his new home. The sparrow flew down to see if the turtle was OK.
“Hi, Mr. Turtle, are you OK?” sang the sparrow.
“Oh yes, just a little tired building my new home,” said the turtle proudly.
Only seeing a few crooked sticks, the sparrow tweets sheepishly, “Oh, well, it’s mighty hard to build a home. I have to fly all over just to find a single perfect twig. You wouldn’t want a house made of shabby twigs, you know. You’re so lucky to have your home on your back.”
“What! My home on my back? You mean this heavy shell? It’s such a burden. I can’t even breathe because it weighs so much.”
“Well, I think it’s a gift to have your home wherever you are. I saw you yesterday sunning yourself on the warm rock, right at home.”
“Hmm, I guess,” said the turtle dismissively.
“And it wasn’t long ago, I saw you swimming in the beautiful lake, right at home.”
“Yeah, but I spend a lot of my time swimming and sunbathing,” said the turtle, clearly frustrated.
“And look at you now. You haven’t finished your stick home, but you’re in the beautiful forest -- a long ways away from the lake -- and, still, right at home.”
“Wow. I never really thought about my shell that way. I guess it is rather nice to be at home wherever I go.”
Management Moral: Feedback, no matter how true, needs to be heard three times.
I discovered this Management Moral while leading teams for the past decade. Turtles are typically portrayed as slow and stubborn, but capable and intelligent. Many of the people that I’ve led and coached remind me of turtles. They are super smart and capable, but they can get stuck in their ways and it slows them down.
When hearing feedback, turtles -- and people alike -- will dismiss the first example as a fluke. The second example is easily rationalized away. But the third example hits home - turtle shell or not.
Slowly, I learned how to break through and have real conversations that helped my people grow and improve. I started delivering feedback with three specific examples of their behavior. You could say I learned how to Turtle Talk.
Turtle Talk is feedback that hits home.