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Fortnightly hacks and gripes: 'difficult feedback' edition


Relationships are the cornerstone of teamwork. Things are great when all the information, perspectives, and ways we show up for each other meet our expectations. But, when they don't, it's hard to have tough conversations with teammates.

  • What are suggestions on how to deliver difficult feedback well? What's helped you in the past do it? Or what have you liked if on the receiving end?

  • What's frustrating on either end of the feedback communication chain? 

Kitty below would love to hear what y'all think! Let it in!

*Oh, and let's try making each thought a different comment so that we can separate each idea as a different thought to like.


Let me in.gif


[Hack] If I think the person I'm delivering feedback to might take notes poorly, I turn the feedback into a question I need help working through.

Because it's true. If I'm providing feedback, that means I think there's room for improvement. And feedback, isn't necessarily framed as a problem I have with the person I'm speaking with, but rather, framed as a way the two of us can discuss a solution to a problem together. 

In these specific instances, I start the conversation with something like, "Can I get your advice on something?" It gets the other person on the same side as me, like a teammate, and it might disarm them from thinking I'm complaining about them (which is not the best way to look at feedback anyway).

[Gripe] I hear from many folks how difficult it is to deliver feedback when they don't feel they have psychological safety to do so. 

This is a frustrating because we often hear messages like "just give feedback or else the problem won't get fixed." But delivering feedback is not easy, on both the giving and receiving end, let alone changing things to make the situation better. And when retaliation is feared, conversations where there are uneven positions of power, or even inexperience in communicating with a new teammate, psychological safety is paramount. Without it, things aren't as easy as "just giving feedback." 

Here, the responsibility shouldn't be on the individual who has feedback, but perhaps should be shared by the team to cultivate a safe culture of feedback-giving.

That resonate with anyone?

I guess some managers are still inspired by Machiavelli: "It is much safer for the prince to be feared than loved, but he ought to avoid making himself hated

when leaders use this quote: "a person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected"

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Yes, these are still very relevant sentiments today. That fear is preventing connection, connection that can ultimately improve work. 

Like Sedera Randria likes this

I suspect a lot of the decision here will be on how as a manager or team leader to deliver feedback. I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective.

I once had a manager who asked me, how could he deliver feedback better. This was asked in one of our regular catch ups. This illustrates an openness that we're not always experts at delivering feedback. It also gives me the opportunity to feedback to him.

Like # people like this

Great hack. For both sides. 

As with many practices, asking participants what can be better and/or aligning on expectations is bound to make the experience better. And bonus points for using that discussion as an opportunity to provide feedback that perhaps may not be as easily given without a designated time to do so like this.

I like it. Good one, @Colum McAndrew !

Indeed: starting from expectation alignment, open and candid conversations are possible and (hopefully) welcomed.

One challenge: during a team's initial expectation alignment, someone opts out, such as: "I'm not agreeing to do that."  When after open team discussion no progress is made, that may indicate historical issues that leaders need to engage to address, rather than allowing impacts for healthy team communications.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Totally, @Bill Sheboy. If after open discussion there isn't full participation, that's an indication that perhaps that open discussion + working agreements need to be revisited again.

Perhaps not just to reset them, but to understand what should happen if/when teammates don't want to follow through on something previously agreed upon. I like that you put the onus on leaders to address it because sometimes teammates don't feel empowered to do so, even though in theory we're all empowered to facilitate discussion.

[Hack/Gripe]Several years ago, a past landlord taught me how to announce a significant rent increase with a big smile.

Funny video about this approach: How to give constructive feedback - Compliment Sandwich

Like # people like this

Hahaha, that was not the video I expected, @Sedera Randria!

However, the compliment sandwich is something I must confess I did when I was first starting out. Because I didn't know any better, sure, but also because I thought it was the nice thing to do as a good teammate. Until of course, I felt it on the receiving end and realized how confusing it was. Definitely a gripe for me nowadays.

Like Sedera Randria likes this
Dave Liao Community Leader Oct 03, 2021

[Hack] Focus on facts and impacts.

Share any facts and/or impacts associated with any positive behaviors (ideally demonstrated in some way!), and the impacts of the current negative behavior. "Do more of... do less of..."

You want your teammate to be a better contributor so that the team can deliver successfully more often.

[Gripe] Note that I've given feedback to others most often as a peer, not as a manager. This dynamic makes it easier to give feedback, but it's also easier to have that feedback ignored. 😅

Like # people like this

Re: your gripe, @Dave Liao , it's a great call out that feedback looks different based on the relationship dynamic. It's not a one-size-all game.

Like Dave Liao likes this

I always use BIO feedback module for difficult conversations, can't recommend it enough.

Like # people like this
Dave Liao Community Leader Oct 04, 2021

@Anita Kalmane - ooh, I love this! I focus too much on the "Behavior" and "Impact" aspects of feedback that I sometimes forget that giving "Options" allows the recipient to have freedom. The polar opposite of an undesirable behavior is not always the sole option. 🙏

@Dave Liao , also make sure it's options in plural :) Give more than one, so it's really about the choice and not just directing somebody to do what YOU think is correct.

Like Dave Liao likes this
Dave Liao Community Leader Oct 04, 2021

@Anita Kalmane ⚡💙

This is a great resource! Thanks for sharing it with the group, @Anita Kalmane !

I think the most important component of feedback, whether it be feedback on a project or performance or otherwise, is giving specific details. As a writer, I'm much happier to get the note "can this headline be shorter?" than the note "can you change this headline?" During a performance review, it's much easier to conceptualize the feedback "I like the way you're always taking notes during meetings" than "you show good attention to detail" because then I know what specific behavior to continue/cease.

In my experience, it's hard to give specific feedback, especially for things like performance reviews, so I've kept small running lists of examples as they come up to lean on during feedback conversations and that really helps!

Like # people like this

Yes, great [hack]!

It's really hard to fully understand feedback without the application component to bring it to life. Something that's happened in the past and possibly something that could apply the feedback for the future.

Like Mel Policicchio likes this
  • What are suggestions on how to deliver difficult feedback well? What's helped you in the past do it? Or what have you liked if on the receiving end?

For me, I feel its best to sandwich it between positives if you can, not to take away from the negative aspects but it feels like its less personal/direct in my experience and teams in my experience engage with areas for improvement a lot more than they would if it was all negative. 

Also as @Dave Liao  mentioned, delivering feedback with the mindset of a peer rather than a manager tends to open up communication more and doesn't feel like you are treading on people, more giving them advice. 

There is actually quite some negative advice against using the sandwich method, as it'll make you forget all the constructive feedback and feel like all you're doing is actually good. IMHO, it's more a cultural thing - I've heard sandwich working better in the USA than in Europe.


Just one article here, but you can find more on google.

I feel something like that is contextual really, say in my example things are properly documented and actions are noted I feel like you get the benefit of both in that example. 

The person gets clarity on the good stuff but also has an action point or an anchor on the areas for improvement. Everyone is different and reacts differently of course but I think with the right structure around it there is certainly some merit to it. 

I thought this was an interesting piece from HBR -

One strategy I'm going to try from this article, is to provide feedback by telling people when something they did is a good model for future behavior, citing the positive aspect of when they did something great in the past, but then talking through how that same idea can be applied to something in the present/future. 

Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it. By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her—by saying, “That! Yes, that!”—you’re offering her the chance to gain an insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it. That is learning.
The key is not to tell someone how well she’s performed or how good she is. While simple praise isn’t a bad thing, you are by no means the authority on what objectively good performance is, and instinctively she knows this. Instead, describe what you experienced when her moment of excellence caught your attention. There’s nothing more believable and more authoritative than sharing what you saw from her and how it made you feel. Use phrases such as “This is how that came across for me,” or “This is what that made me think,” or even just “Did you see what you did there?” Those are your reactions—they are your truth—and when you relay them in specific detail, you aren’t judging or rating or fixing her; you’re simply reflecting to her the unique “dent” she just made in the world, as seen through your eyes. And precisely because it isn’t a judgment or a rating it is at once more humble and more powerful.

That^ might be a way to provide a compliment to someone while also seeing if that good deed can remedy an area for improvement. Not quite a compliment sandwich, but still pairing two different sentiments. 

Laura Holton Community Leader Oct 06, 2021

Difficult feedback is no one's favourite thing to deliver, I usually set up a meeting and split it into two parts. The first half obviously focuses on the feedback at hand but the second half is always more directed at why it happened in the first place and what action plan we can put together to limit the reasons that led to the difficult feedback in the first place - whether that support, training etc. 

Like # people like this

General feedback + specifics. I like it.

And I really think the action plan step is something that doesn't happen often, but it's a good reminder that the recipient may appreciate that as you become someone on their side, rooting for their growth alongside them.

Like Laura Holton likes this
Laura Holton Community Leader Oct 07, 2021

I completely agree it's something that gets missed off quite regularly for employees.

I feel the action plan is what turns it around as they feel more supported and aren't disheartened with the feedback because we've taken the time to work on a way forward.

Like # people like this

I couldn't agree more. I don't think you ever want to give difficult feedback just because you want to have it said - the idea is or should be to improve whatever it is that can be improved.

Opening the floor to think together what those steps might be to avoid that nasty mistake, become a better team mate or whatever the desired improvement may be, helps you convert from the bearer of bad news into the accomplice for the great. 

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this


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