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Submitted by rja28912 on


Hi all, there is a discussion string on a similiar train going on but it seems to have become a bit de-railed, so I thought I'd start another.

I have the situation where I have received 3 unsolicitated remarks regarding one of my directs from some of my other directs. In a staff meeting that I was unable to attend, the target DR got into a debate with the QUALITY manager on a QUALITY issue and overpowered and openly challenged the competence of my Quality Manager in front of the entire staff. The target DR is a high performer and very motivated, he has a tremendous work ethic but sometimes does get a bit 'above his station' especially when I am out of the office. The reports about his behaviour are completely believable. I know this because the same story was corrborated 3 times.

Anyway...I used the feedback model to the target DR, but the conversation went completely downhill when I wasn't truly prepared to answer/debate the question he raised: 'Yes, but who said that'?
Me: It doesn't really matter...
Him: Yes, it does, because I need to know to properly address this accusation..I think I know...was it so and so?
Me: Its not an accusation, just an observation of your behavior...
Him: I can't believe anyone would say that, was it just one person?
Me: It doesn't matter, but the behavior was noted from others in the meeting as well..
Me: Oh? Well who were the others, I bet I can guess...

You get the idea.

The feedback session fell flat I feel because I wasn't prepared on how to address the 'yeah, but' scenario...any clever words to diffuse such a scenario out there?

Many thanks,


jwyckoff's picture

This person is distracting you from the main issue.

What exactly did you say in the "here's what happens" section? Did you speak about "multiple others come to me about your behavior", "breaks down team collaboration", "I (boss) have to deal with your behavior, taking away from other more important tasks"?

You need to be FIRM. Don't lose your cool -- this person is getting angry, and trying to pull you in. YOU ARE IN CONTROL. This person seems to be one that might be hard to nail down on specific behavior -- just keep coming back to the behavior and outcome, and don't fall into their game.

jprlopez's picture

Hi rja, connick is right on the spot.

It would be also helpful if you can state the exact feedback you gave.

Mark's picture
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Yep to both comments.

I have no tolerance for this rejoinder or line of debate. I'm nice about it, and I have no tolerance for it.

If you are giving feedback, you are accepting as FACT that the incident occurred. You could be wrong, but for now you are accepting it, and acting on it. If you don't believe it, don't act. If you have doubts, don't act.

If YOU believe it, why allow them to deflect it? It happened.

So, when they say, "who said it?" say,

"I did."

"but you weren't there."

"Nope, but I believe it happened. When you do that, others come to me, it takes the team down a notch, etc., etc. What are you going to do about this next time?"

How's that?


I admit it - it always seems to be the same folks who use this tactic...and I get a little too much joy in the line, "I did." I love my folks, and I'm human, and I don't like one tearing another down. I'll fire the superstar who demeans others in a group.

drinkcoffee's picture

I went through this recently as well. I re-listened to the podcast "Receiving Feedback About Your Directs", and it was extremely helpful.

Mark's picture
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Sweet! Thanks.


tokyotony's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]If you are giving feedback, you are accepting as FACT that the incident occurred. You could be wrong, but for now you are accepting it, and acting on it. If you don't believe it, don't act. If you have doubts, don't act.[/quote]

I often struggle with this one. Whenever I get client feedback (e.g. in my case, internal clients) and I relate the feedback to my team member, they often have some reason - and sometimes it seems valid. I then wonder to myself if I need to ping back the team member's feedback to the client.

In other cases, I am often asked for "evidence" since I wasn't there. I feel that if I "side" with the person giving feedback, the team member can feel as though I don't trust what they are saying. In the end, there's no way to be sure.

Mark's picture
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Here's a different way of thinking about it:

If you have doubts, you DON'T give feedback. I suppose that breaks down if you're someone who needs video proof, but at some point one has to trust their gut. If your gut says deliver, then deliver. And to do so well, you must believe it happened.

Do I give feedback every time I hear something? Not by a long shot. But I do when I believe it...and it ends up that my gut is deciding...

Now, have I believed something someone has told me (even a trusted friend), only to be proven wrong? Sure... but that's not a reason not to act.

And remember that it's like breathing. I hear this concern from many managers, and it's often because they're not giving enough feedback, so any one instance has the chance to make an impact on the relationship. After 50 times, many positive, some negative, being wrong on one won't hurt you.

Also's unlikely that there was NO truth in the rumor. If you're wrong but behavior changes, a solid relationship can handle that.

Keep gnawing at it!


tokyotony's picture


Maybe I would therefore preface the feedback a bit so that it doesn't sound too one sided....who knows, there could have been mitigating factors as to what the behavior happened.

So, how about..."Joe, I heard something today that I want to talk to you about" and explain what was heard, hear their side of the story, make a judgment, and then give feedback if necessary.


bflynn's picture

Tony, I wouldn't preface it. If you believe it to be true, act. If you have a doubt, don't.

If you're wrong - well, there's a podcast on apologies.


Mark's picture
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I can understand that concern. I have felt that way as well, and have found that that preface is a cure worse than the issue. It sends a message that YOU are not sure, and it tends to evoke a greater likelihood of defensiveness than in just delivering the feedback.

I would suggest that you NOT give feedback under the circumstances, because it taints the model, and you don't want to lose candor in your performance dialog with your directs. Unfortunately, that causes this incident to turn, all to often, into a 'he said, she said', and then, why bother?

If you believe it, deliver it. If you don't, remember it.


trandell's picture

Excellent thread. I love Mark's "I did" response. I have a DR that this advice should help with. I'm working to figure out if he is a D or a C, so I can tune my delivery. I don't have anything to add on this, but please keep it going.

tokyotony's picture


Okay, I think I understand where you are coming from on this. One last question...what happens if the person who gave you the feedback which you had some doubt on comes back and asks, "So, how did X feel about that?" or "Were you able to give X that feedback I gave you?"

Maybe I am getting a bit more "worried" than I should about this, and I really appreciate the time you all have taken to give a response.

This "feedback unseen/unhear" directly by me has been a challenge for me. When I have given it, I often have had people come look at me as if I didn't trust them, especially if I was wrong. Then, on the other hand, if I don't give the feedback, the person who originally gave it will think I don't trust them. :(

Thanks as always,


wendii's picture
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they're trusting you to make the right decision about the feedback, not trusting you to repeat every word like a parrot. They might not know that, but they are. If they ask you "So, how did X feel about that?" or "Were you able to give X that feedback I gave you?" just tell them, you've dealt with it in a way you felt was appropriate. Smile, be firm, and then say thanks for letting me know, I appreciate that. Now about the X account.... and move on.

You did the right thing with that feedback. Be confident in your decision.

Hope that helps.


Mark's picture
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First off, you listening to someone else's feedback - and of course, it WON'T be feedback - doesn't obligate you to deliver it. PERIOD.

If someone asked me that one time, I'd say, "No, but thanks for sharing it. It was helpful."

When they get huffy, ask them why they didn't give the feedback directly...and coach them on how. Most people do this (go through the other's boss) because they don't have the guts to confront it themselves..and then they'll let it go... unless it's important, in which case it coming from them is better.

Regarding your trepidations: If YOU decide that YOU believe what happened, then YOU will deliver feedback YOUR way. If YOU have doubts, YOU don't do anything.

If THEY have problems with it, that's THEIR problem. If they consider that a matter of broken trust, as opposed to trusting YOU that YOU know better what YOUR team is doing and what YOUR team is going through, that's THEIR issue.

Being wrong is worse than worrying about others opinions of you.

Worry is like a rocking chair - it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere. You're good.. trust yourself.


ctomasi's picture

I found a trick that works for me that 8 thought 8 would share for delivering developmental feedback...

Script it.

I find I can collect my thoughts and follow through better when I write it down. I also have a record of it if need be.

Yes, Mark will say "Remember that it is just feedback." I like to remember the things I was going to say and deliver them the best way possible by writing them out first.

lmoorhead's picture
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I have a variation on the "who said it" theme...

First some background: I have a DR who really struggles with communication, particularly expressing herself in day to day conversations. "Jan" has a hard time organizing her thoughts before speaking, listening to others, and staying collaborative. I've had complaints from Jan's customers and teammates, not to mention my management. Communication is an essential part of her job, but this has reached the point where I observe people rolling their eyes when Jan opens her mouth to speak. I have given her feedback on specific issues with communication as they arise, covered it in our 1:1s, and discussed it in two annual performance reviews. I've been working through the late stage coaching model, and happily we have resolved some other development issues, but have made little progress in this area. She seems to recognize how a one-off situation could have been better handled, but doesn't seem to make the connection when a similar situation comes up so that she can actually implement the feedback. Jan sees each situation as a discrete event, with no similarities.

One of the impacts of Jan's communication style is that minor issues tend to be blown way out of proportion. On Friday, I had a coversation with her along the lines of "Can I give you some feedback? When you tell our customer X, here's what happens: they get worried that we have a major issue with the project, start to panic, escalate to their management, and I have to go back and clarify which takes time away from dealing with other, larger issues. What could you do differently next time?" This is a typical exchange.

Here's what's new: my team lead "Bob" came to me this morning and said that Jan called him on Friday night to ask about my confidence in her abilities. She wanted to know exactly what was discussed in Bob's 1:1. She asked him what we talked about and wanted to know whether Bob thought I was doubting her work. As team lead, part of Bob's role is to escalate issues to me if they can't be resolved, and to let me know about any customer service problems which come up. I talked to Bob, reinforced that he has no obligation to share what was discussed in his 1:1 with anybody else, that I depend on him to keep me informed on the status of issues, and while I encourage him to give Jan feedback directly, I also need to know when something major comes up. Bob seems OK, but I feel I ought to follow up with Jan as well.

Jan is pretty much guaranteed to ask the "who said it" question every time - I've used the "I did" phrase before with her, which seemed to get us over that part of the conversation. But, because I've declined to name names, she's got it in her head that I pick on her, that there is one particular customer who has it in for her, and now seems to have decided that Bob must be her nemesis as well. While I have received some feedback from Bob, this behavior is so universal that there really is no one person raising the issue - except me of course! My 1:1 meetings with Jan tend toward two extremes - either very positive (she acknowledges there is an issue, she's working really hard, she really appreciates the feedback, etc.) or ultra-defensive (you're out to get me, so-and-so is out to get me, you don't treat me fairly, etc.) I never know which I'm going to get, but I try to get the message across in each conversation that I do like her as a person, and I have a responsibility to make sure she is effective in her job, and this is a significant development area that needs to be addressed.

To make a short story long...should I confront Jan about her accusations to Bob? It's been a bit disruptive to the team, as Bob is feeling a bit gun-shy and I am certain others have picked up on the tension. I'm wondering how to handle it. To be quite candid, she's correct. I DON'T have a tremendous amount of confidence in her when it comes to communication. I'm constantly having to circle back behind her and put out fires. Lately, as I've continued to give the same feedback over and over, I end up feeling discouraged - and I have no doubt Jan is feeling the same way.

Here was my plan: "Jan, can I give you some feedback? When you accuse Bob of talking behind your back, here's what happens: you make Bob feel uncomfortable, the rest of the team feels tense, and our work suffers as a group. How could you handle this differently next time?" and "I understand that you feel like your capabilities are being questioned. I've felt that way before too, and I've found that the best way to deal with it is to try and tackle those development areas and start showing some improvement. I'd like to continue to work with you on that."

I'd love any thoughts on how to deal with this situation, feedback on my feedback, if you will!

rwwh's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

No matter what you do here, you need systemic feedback as well. Apparently "jan" is not improving on the communication issues. Now you have to give her feedback on that issue as well.

[quote]jan, can I give you some feedback? When you do X, and the situation does not improve after I have given feedback on that several times and you apparently do not implement the changes you suggested yourself, here is what happens: ...still..., and now I start doubting your will and capability to improve on this issue,.... What can you do differently next time?[/quote]

Listen to the podcast on how (not) to fire someone.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

First off, Rob's right. Systemic feedback seems to be in her future.

I have a couple of thoughts on this. One, I recommend you talk to Bob and teach him how to give your DR feedback about her behaviors. Why do you have to be the one giving feedback to your DR when it's Bob who's observing it? (ASking him to do this is commensurate with skills necessary for his role, in my opinion).

Second, I would talk to her about this. If she wants to blame Bob, give her feedback on that too, separate from her complaining to him and asking him to divulge information from your one on one with him.

I think your feedback to her is fine. She won't like it, but this isn't a populatiry contest.


saadkins's picture

Just finished reading Crucial Confrontations. It seems to take the tact that you should say, I heard about this, I may be wrong, tell me your story, and then handle the situation from there. It seems lik you completely disagree with this approach. I did find some of Crucial Confrontations helpful but is seemed a too "soft" in some respect. Has anyone else read it and comment on the approach it takes to deal with this type of situation?

brooksmc's picture

[quote]mahorstman wrote:
If you are giving feedback, you are accepting as FACT that the incident occurred. You could be wrong, but for now you are accepting it, and acting on it. If you don't believe it, don't act. If you have doubts, don't act.

I have been on the receiving end of feedback where my manager accepted as FACT that the feedback he'd received about me was true. Over and over again, it has been shown that the source of the feedback turned out to be in the wrong, and I was in the right. I cannot emphasize how demoralizing it is to have to defend yourself in such a situation. Please please PLEASE, I beg of each and everyone of you here. If you get feedback like this, do not assume that the source has got it right. Please say to your direct, 'I received feedback on X. Can you tell me your side of the story?'. Don't assume your direct was in the wrong.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Managers do not have time to play referee.

Do NOT ask. Use your OWN judgement. The example cited above is not a justification for playing detective, it's an indictment of a manager with poor judgment. He probably believed everything he was told... a bad idea in all cases.

CHOOSE. And live with the consequences.