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Submitted by US101 on


"What can you differently about that?" Is often the phrase Mark uses in the last step of the feedback model.

Do you think this sounds like a manager doing a "dump and run" on the employee or is blaming/accusatory, making the employee even more defensive?

I'm not saying it does. I would just like hear what people think.

Are the following phrases any more or less effective?

- "How can I help you with this?"
- "What can we do to keep this from happening?"
- "What thoughts or ideas do you have on how we can change this?"


nathanbeaudry's picture

It may be advisable to not use the word "we" since the feedback is about behavior that the individual has distinctly engaged in. It's a choice that individual has made alone by him or herself. It may imply that manager is accepting some ownership of the behavior or have a sort of false-sounding overtone.

Just my $0.02. :)

PierG's picture

I had the same thought, trying to translate into another language (italian!).
The direct translation is a bit to 'hard', at least for our culture.
Moreover I'd stay with a 'behaviour' centric question and on a 'what can YOU'.

cwcollin's picture

I have a different twist on the question. In many cases it is clear that the desired future behavior is to just not do that thing that I am giving them feedback on. So asking them "What can you do differently next time" really does seem like rubbing it in because we have already established what that thing is.


Can I give you some Feedback?
When you come in late without calling me on a day that you are responsible for ensuring a critical report gets run it makes me drop what I am doing and check to make sure the report is getting out the door? This takes me away from my own priorities to focus on yours.
OK, I will make sure I call you directly next time. is the point where I feel

What could you do differently in the future?

would be a bad choice of words.


US101's picture
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Right. Sometimes it's enough to point out what the behavior you observed and the consequences.

And, when you've been working with the employee for a long time it's seems wierd to poing out all of the consequences. They know the consequences and you bringing up all the consequenes is like rubbing it in.

For example, "Hey Jack, can I share something with you?" Are you aware the code you checked in last Friday broke the build?"

That's all I would need to say to some people.

Nigel's picture
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I know how you all FEEL about the 'what can you do differently about this' tagline being a dump n' run or a rubbing-it-in. I've FELT the same way before particularly when giving feedback to more senior direct-reports (including those that are 10-12 years older than me). It's typical of us Canadians to not want to offend. What I have FOUND is that the 'what can YOU do differently...' tagline plays an important role. For three reasons:

First, it validates they have not only HEARD the feedback ('yeah, my boss just chewed me out') but have also ACCEPTED it. When they say something like, '...well I guess I could get up 10 minutes earlier to get a jump on the traffic...' there's been a subtle transfer of ownership for correcting the behaviour from you to them. You can't safely assume they've accepted that ownership unless you ask.

Second, it validates for you that they in fact plan to do something about it. It's one thing for them to hear your feedback, but what you actually want is a change in the behaviour. I gave some feedback this week and was glad I added the 'what can you...' tagline because I found out, much to my surprise, that she had no intention of doing anything differently about it. Her answer was something like, 'well if you really must know, I'm not going to do anything differently about it because...' It turns out there were some extenuating circumstances I was unaware of and we ultimately came to an agreement on how to proceed that accomodated those circumstances. But if I had not asked she would have continued to behave the same way (and privately felt quite justified in doing so) and I ultimately would have given her the same feedback the next time along with some systemic feedback about her inability to react to my feedback. I would have been frustrated and there would have been unneccesary tension between us. After all, the feedback model is about COMMUNICATION.

Third, you get a chance to ensure that what they plan to do differently is appropriate and won't make things worse. This past week one of my directs gave feedback to someone on his team. When he asked '...what can you do differently about this next time?' the answer he got was alarmingly opposite to what the situation called for and would have got the fellow in more trouble. My direct was able to say, 'OK I see what you're thinking there. AND if you call ahead before you show up with that letter I think your meeting will be more effective.' I'm constantly amazed in my business how dangerous assumptions can be. When I talk to someone I often think it's abundantly obvious what the decision should be. But often I'm taken aback by what the other person ultimately states is the course we should follow.

Like anything, it takes practise. I'm finding that if you TRULY believe your role is to help them get even better, and if you TRULY believe that feedback is only a minor course correction not a punsihment, a gentle caring tone will come across in your voice when you say (with genuine curiosity) 'so what do you think you can do differently..."

cowie165's picture

Wow, Nigel your post talked me through a complete 180. When I read the first post in the thread I agreed with what was said however your post has completely changed my mind. Thanks for taking the time to share the 'other' side. I feel that ownership of the requirement to change is paramount.

Great post.