If an employee comes to me with feedback about another employee, we first unpack it together. We then discuss how to address it directly with the other person. There was a time when I would act as a middleman, taking the feedback to the person or their manager. While this approach may feel like progress at the time, it rarely leads to long-term growth.
The employees need to find common ground on their own. A candid feedback conversation is a start to doing just that. It is an opportunity to get everything out in the air. Both sides can dig deeper, understanding each other's context to improve future collaboration.
In some situations, I will mediate the conversation. I offer to do this if the feedback is particularly challenging, or I sense that there is some level of discomfort between the employees (rarely work together, junior <> director relationship). With trust from both sides, a third-party can be powerful in addressing the elephant in the room and making sure that all truths are brought to the surface.
When an outcome does not meet our expectations, it is not uncommon to generalize what went wrong, blending feedback on people with feedback on the process.
I like to look at feedback as a deck of cards. As the giver of feedback, we are the dealer. It is our job to address our feedback deck one card at a time, sorthing them out on the table.
By unloading the deck, we can get to the core of what went wrong and better understand how to address each of our cards. With all the cards arranged on the table, the next step is to deal them, to deliver the feedback to the right people.
In tense situations, we often make the mistake of dealing all of our feedback cards to one person. When we do so, that person may come off as defensive. From our perspective, it feels like they're not listening to what we have to say or making excuses.
Maybe this person is not good at taking feedback, but maybe it's on us. We haven't sorted through the deck before dealing out the cards.
This exercise helps bring calm to what can feel like chaos. It creates clarity. Without it, we risk our feedback getting lost on the receiver, overshadowed by cards that weren't meant for them.