First - thank you for the frameworks you have put forth - they are an invaluable asset to me both personally and in developing people in my organization!

I have been using the feedback model for about 8 months now, and ran across my first really interesting encounter. The person had a very strong reation to the feedback - not just defensiveness, but retorted with a personal attack about my work ethic.

My purpose for writing is twofold -
1) to warn others that such vehement reactions can occur (I still think it is your responsibility to share feedback) and
2) to seek advice you might have on how to deal with this when it happens.


It was peer to peer feedback - this person has been a colleague of mine for several years, and we have worked well together in the past.

She has a reputation for being caustic / sharp with people. When she displayed some of that behavior in an email - "I am trying to be nice about this.." I took the opportunity to give her some feedback on it, letting her know when she uses phrases like that, it engenders defensiveness and resistance in other people, and makes it much less likely that they will produce well for her (she is a high D).

Well, it didn't go as planned. It didn't even go as expected (a defensive response) - instead, it evoked a personal attack on my work ethic. Frankly, I was appaled by the venom behind the statement, and the potential implications on a relationship I had thought was both productive and good. I told her that I had mererly wanted to inform her of the impact of her behavior and look for options, and excused myself from the call. It was going to go nowhere good.

I am resolved to provide her additional feedback about when she is approached with feedback and she provides a personal attack in response. I am unsure at this time, however, that I can provide it with a 'loving' nature, so will have to cool down before I provide feedback. I suppose it is just a part of my development of thicker skin as a professional. I have taken much worse from bad clients or others in the past, I was just shocked at how much outflow can come from opening up the new level of dialogue can have with a person I believed to have a good relationship with.

AManagerTool's picture

First off, peer feedback is inherently dangerous and needs to be given in a specific way. See the Peer Feedback Cast.

Second, by your own admission she is a high D. Phrasing the feedback as [quote]it engenders defensiveness and resistance in other people, and makes it much less likely that they will produce well for her [/quote] is almost comical to a high D. They take hearsay with a grain of salt. "If you don't have the stones to make it about your feelings, then don't talk to me." Take it from me...a High D.

A better way to phrase it might have been something to the effect of:

Step 1: Skip
Step 2: "When I read that e-mail that you wrote where you said that you were "trying to be nice" about this...
Step 3: "I instantly felt as if you were threatening me. I felt as if I had to do damage control and play CYA instead of help you solve the problem."
Step 4: Skip

You may want to soften it a bit per your own style...remember I'm also a high D.....LMAO

Then leave it alone...
That's it. When she tries to go on a tirade, say sorry and walk away. The message will have been sent.

US101's picture
Licensee Badge

Giving the feedback over the phone, especially to a peer, is not as ideal as face-to-face, but you already know this.

Have you ever asked her for feedback?

Perhaps she reacted because she saw this as one-way and that you have never asked her for feedback. This is a total assumption on my part. I don't know enough about your situation.

Also, the fact that she said "...trying to be nice" she is aware of how people perceive her as abrasive when that's not her intent. She is trying to communicate effectively. This would seem to me to be reason to give positive feedback.

Mcheek's picture


Thank you for your responses. Here's an update to the situation.

The great news is that the feedback, while uncomfortable at first, served the purpose of all feedback - to provide the incremental changes to keep a work relationship productive and healthy.

The return fire was a symptom of deterioration in the relationship based on differing work priorities. The feedback, while uncomfortable, provided the trigger to have the discussions we needed to get the relationship back on track.

US41's picture

[quote="Mcheek"]She has a reputation for being caustic / sharp with people. evoked a personal attack on my work ethic. Frankly, I was appaled[/quote]

These are the parts of your post that stand out to me more than any others.

If she has a reputation for being caustic and sharp, then other people have taken offense at things she has said. These are conclusions, and they tell us nothing about her behavior. These two words are adjectives that describe the behaviors of the people she interacted with - their own behaviors of reacting to being poked by an umbrella.

Likewise, your reaction of being appalled is similar. You took offense.

Keep in mind, offense is never given. Offense is taken by the listener.

We must be careful not to engage in behaviors at which people will take offense, because it is not practical, but do not forget where the blame for being offended truly lies. To do so is to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our own emotional reactions to the mere words and facial expressions of others.

It's my opinion that a defensive response is the norm when giving feedback to a peer. What happens when you give feedback to strong employees the first time? They usually start asking you if they can give you some feedback, right? And they try to copy your style. They might do it for a laugh to make fun of you as a way of handling their terror that you might give them feedback again, or they might doing as retaliation.

Many people view feedback as being an attack. Feedback puts a spotlight on behavior, and many people depend on Horstman's Cone of Invisibility to continue their ineffective behaviors.

When you give a peer feedback, expect this reaction, and stay within the bounds of the shot across the bow - just say, "I'm so sorry. I've hurt your feelings."

I'm not sure I agree with worrying about tailoring the feedback to your high D peer. Tailoring just makes adjusting feedback sting more. Some D's are nearly immune to feedback, and so you have to drop a thermonuclear feedback on them to get results. "When you... what happens is that I find you defensive and wonder if you have doubts about your ability to make it to ever be promoted while you continue that behavior."

Want a defensive response? Boy, that will wake them up in the morning. You'll find out all sorts of stuff about their opinion of you that you didn't want to know.

Here's the good thing - their nasty remarks may have a ring of truth to them. The more their retort stings, the more true it is for you in your mind, which is why it stings. Thus, take some of the criticism as valid and try to get over it. It will be a good learning experience. Perhaps some other peers will help you to understand the ineffective behaviors you have (we all have them) more completely. "Someone recently told me I have a poor work ethic. What do I do that might give you that impression?"

At any rate - communication is good. Fighting is better than silence. Artificial harmony is just icing on a cyanide flavored cake. At least if you are fighting the gloves come off and the truth is revealed.

Then you can begin to sort things out. Communication builds trust, and trust builds relationships. Relationships tie together into a network. Trust is the foundation of a strong team and finding better or new employment.

HMac's picture

One of the points I want to echo is Tool's: "peer feedback is inherently dangerous." Amen, baby...

In my experience, one of the things I need to do when I'm about to give feedback is to quickly check on my reasons for wanting to give that feedback.

Sometimes I find myself....I'll admit it...wanting to CHANGE PEOPLE :oops: .

And I've learned that when I give feedback with that mindset, I'm almost certainly disappointed. Because I CAN'T change people. And the Feedback Model isn't meant to change people - it's my fault that I misuse it by applying it with the wrong purpose.

I'm drawing from my own experience here because this has been particularly the case for me with peer feedback. If I'm not careful, I find myself [i]trying to persuade a peer to behave differently[/i]. And that's missionary work, not manager work.

So when I'm "good" at giving peer fedback, I'm doing it with the intent to [i]inform[/i] the peer of the impact of his or her behavior, with a genuine belief that they can choose more effective behaviors, if they want to. And I have a little voice in my head saying "hey, I'm coming at this from MY perspective, based on MY opinions and what I'VE observed. I could be wrong."


Mcheek's picture

Agreed, it was choppy waters - it did work out well. In fact, I even received a bit of constructive criticism as well. Part of the response I received was hyperbolized, but around a grain of pure gold, and I have made some productive modifications to my behavior based on it.

All in all, it should be noted (and prepared for) that it was dicey work, but well worth the effort for the relationship maintained, and the important feedback I received from it.

cwatine's picture
Training Badge

I think adjusting feedback to a peer is the most difficult form of feedback. It is very complicated to ask a peer to change her behavior because you have no authority on her.

I would only give adjusting feedback to a peer if her behavior arms me or my work.

Wouldn't it better to always present the situation by talking about YOU rather than about the OTHER ?
"I feel hurt when you ..." instead of "You hurt me when ..."
"I feel stressed ..." instead of "you stress me"
The peer can't argue on that because this is how YOU feel.

Maybe it will not change her but it will make her know the effect of her behavior on yourself. When she does it again, she knows.

mapletree's picture
Training Badge

I know the original post was from a while ago but I have similar situation currently. A direct report of mine has a habbit of overreacting when he is unintentionally left off of email chains or conversations that may at a high level have an impact on him later on. This person is a high D and apparently a very insecure one to boot. A recent example was when I sent an email to a department manager and his team regarding a change to a project plan. I unintentionally left my person off of the email which resulted in my person not seeing the interaction between myself and the other manger in real time. When I realized this I forwared a few of the more significant replies to this direct just as an FYI. However he proceeded to overreact, in my opinion, sternly requesting that he be included in all emails relating to his projects. There have been several instances like this between him and me or him and other team members. I have provided feedback on several occassions trying to make the point that the good work he produces is overshadowed by non team oreinted attitude which is perceived as belittling by others. In my feedback I've repeatedly told this person that I will make sure to include him or inform him of anything that directly impacts him. I am intending on providing feedback again pertaining to this weeks incident to him in our 1 on 1 this week but I don't have faith that anything will change. Am I approaching this in the right way?

TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote]Am I approaching this in the right way?[/quote]
if you are giving him feedback on attitude and tone in emails, then no, you are not. You're judging his behavior (a stern email, a non-team attitude, and over-reacting). All of these are how you interpreted his actions, not the actions themselves.

Feedback needs to be on behavior, not attitudes and your interpretation of what he does. Focus on exact words he says, body language, and volume of voice.

mapletree's picture
Training Badge

Regarding observing behavior, our desks are located about 10 feet from each other with low cubicle walls were we are almost facing each other. As a result I could hear his exacperation while we exchanged a few emails on the topic. In the email he accused me of leaving him out. I responded by stating that I did not intentionally and that I the fact that I was forwarding the emails to him shows that I was trying to do the right thing which is when I heard him talking not so under his breath about me not fully understanding the situation although it was not loud enough for me to hear every word. I am fed up at this point since I get this back talk from him even when I tried to be inclusive. Ironically it would have been easier if I never looped him into the email chain in the first place.

bug_girl's picture

Your desks are 10 feet apart. When you responded, did you get up and go talk to him? Or did you email back?

mapletree's picture
Training Badge

I did not respond to him after the under the breath comment. One because I was busy with something else but mostly because I was too angry at the time ( and still am) to adress him 100 percent calmly. I am planning to bring this up during our one on one tomorrow.

lazerus's picture

Okay, so, being angry is not a good place to be. A "shot across the bow," is adjusting feedback delivered according to the MT model which is met with defensiveness. Your job is to let it go! You are the manager. You need some result from this person. His personal feelings about being included in emails are his own. Give him feedback about that:
Mapletree: "Feedback?"
DR: "Yeah, whatever, I don't care..."
Mapletree: When you react to my accidentally leaving you off email cc's by raising your voice and getting all pissed off, here's what happens: 1- it {notice I didn't say YOU- leave judgement out of it, stay fact based and behavior based} looks immature and degrades your expertise, 2- causes a very unpleasent working environment for us so we get less done, 3- I worry that the important thing to you is being part of the group rather than being focused on what we're trying to accomplish. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'LL DO DIFFERENTLY?
DR: "Man, this place sucks! Your'e the worst boss ever! Blah blah blah"
Mapletree: Right. Thanks for that input... back to our relationship here... what will you do differently?
DR: "Next time I'll bust your chops so hard your Grandma will start crying.
Mapletree: "Okay. Let me know when we can talk about this like adults. I'll be over here."

Now, the DR, although not committed to change, is aware that his behavior is the problem, that you know it, and that it must change. Shot across the bow accomplished. It's over for now. IF he repeats this behavior, your adjusting feedback will be different. Keep in mind that he probably just wants to be included, it's not personal.

thaGUma's picture

Peer to peer is hard. Ignore the immediate feedback unit you resolve the initial issue. Don’t get side-tracked. If you feel threatened or dissuaded by their counter then you are lost. Stick to one point.

“I can see there are other issues you want to clarify. Can we sort this point before we look at those?”

bflynn's picture

I wouldn't take too much offense from a high-D reacting this way. Although it seemed to blow up to you, she probably was in the mood "Well, as long as we're clearing the air, you have problems too". You both walked away ok.

She heard you, even if it might take a while for her to digest it.

Suggestion - think on what she said. Could there be a perception of a lesser work ethic on your part? She probably meant it a little aggressively, but it didn't come from nowhere. Thank her for being honest about what she saw and think about it a little.


mapletree's picture
Training Badge

Thanks everyone for the advice and feedback, it is very helpful.
I am planning to discuss this instance with this person today during our one on one. I was planning on taking the email in which he complained about being left out and strongly suggested that I include him in the future and starting the conversation by asking him what his intent was by the email. Letting him speak and then pointing out how this is perceived by me and any other recipient of such a message. I'm hesitant to bring up the fact that he mumbled and groaned under his breath after reading my email response since his out is always that he didn't do that or was reacting to something else...blah blah. Is this an effective approach?

BJ_Marshall's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

His behavior matters, so focus on that. His intent does not matter, so don't focus on that.

Mumbling and groaning is behavior.


mapletree's picture
Training Badge

Is responding curtly in an email to your boss also behavior? That's really my main issue here. That I have been trying to do the right thing by this person and get scolded and \ blasted by them no matter what. It's bad enough if they respond to other team members this way but should not be allowed to do this to thier boss who has discussed this with them in the past.

jhack's picture

That is definitely behavior.

"Curt" however is a conclusion. Some folks like "short and to the point." Others like florid explanation.

It's a matter of being effective: communicating in the "language" of the listener.