Managing Down: Sharing feedback and having difficult conversations

What comes into your mind by the time someone says “I’d like share some feedback with you“?

Feedback gets so much negative connotation but we often forget that it can really mean both positive (appreciation) and negative (identification of issues).


  • Hi Folks. X smashed a call with [client] outta the park today. Massive High 5! No pressure X but I am optimistic that you would manage to close this by end of month! :slightly_smiling_face: Some really great examples offered by X of the use cases and a very well designed response to all the customers project requirements. Impressive!
  • I need to share with you a problem I see. Here are the things I have seen. Here is what they say to me, and here is why I am concerned.
  • “Here is what I believe you’re trying to achieve […], and here’s why you’re falling short of that: […]”
  • I am sharing these observations with you even though it is difficult for me because I care about you and believe they may help you learn and grow.
  • This may be an awkward conversation, but there is some feedback I would like to give you.
  • I was really impressed with your work on X project and wanted to send this note to [manager] to explain how important your work because I know she wasn’t that involved in X project and might not have seen everything you did, is that ok with you? (When your coworker does a great work, tell their manager)

How to have the conversation

Setup and Environment

As I have covered in the Communication Guide for Knowledge Workers series in my other newsletter, conversations with higher emotional element (praises and criticisms) would benefit from higher bandwidth form. Video works better than audio, and audio works better than text. This is all common sense and come natural to most of us.

Art Markman used the term “co-presence” in this HBR piece:

Create a sense of co-presence. The more difficult the conversation you are having, the more you need to think about the technology you are using and how to make it as seamless as possible. You need to create a sense of co-presence, which is the ability to feel as though you can interact effectively with another person. For example, you might consider using a phone connection for voice and to reserve bandwidth for video if you do not have a great internet connection. Also try to keep the environment free from distraction so everyone can concentrate on the conversation itself. This is particularly important if you work in an open office environment.


I stumbled upon this tweet the other day and thought it was quite a sensible take on giving and receiving feedback.

Never give feedback unless you truly want to change someone’s life. If you just feel like expressing an opinion, keep it to yourself. But if you care about someone deeply, intervene.

When we offer unsolicited feedback, even with the spirit of good intent, we assume that someone has a blind spot or needs our help. Don’t overindex your importance in someone else’s career. They’re doing just fine without you, even if it seems like they’re not.

Sometimes we get feedback at work and is’s soul crushing. You can reverse engineer the comments and ask:

  • Does the person care about me?
  • Will this advice change my life if I take it?

The message itself

Be specific. Know what you want to see, what the issue was, and why you are sharing this with them. Give specific demonstrations of problems and particular actions that someone can take to fix the problem.

David Bailey wrote this extremely useful guide to having difficult conversations, based on the NVC framework

Feedback is how we learn. How can we normalise introducing more feedbacks? How can we get better at receiving and giving them?

I personally am still struggling with this. The only way I can get better at it is to have more practice at it. What stories and experience do you have related to this topic? Please share in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *