Solution Saturday: Crying, Anger, and Gossip

Dear Dan,

How do you give feedback and not be offensive? There are some people I work with who would gladly take on feedback. Others would take the same feedback and then create spirals of gossip about how hard done by they have been or there would be tears and harsh words spoken. Any advice would be great.

(Name withheld)


Dear ‘Don’t Like the Tears’,

Almost all employees say they want more feedback. They want to know how they’re doing and how they can improve. Employees who don’t care how they’re doing need to change or move on.

2 Essentials:

#1. Seeking another’s highest good is essential to successful feedback. Ask yourself if you are giving feedback primarily to make your life easier or to enhance their effectiveness, potential, and opportunities.

Don’t give feedback if you don’t care. Always let people know they’re important and you believe in them.

Seeking another’s highest good means managing them out when it doesn’t also serve organizational goals.

#2. Candor makes feedback useful. Say what you see.

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. Don’t fix.
  3. Don’t justify.

Candor motivated by care – seeking another’s highest good – is the foundation of successful feedback. Candor without caring makes you an ass. Caring without candor is “ruinous empathy*.” (See *Kim Scott’s video “Radical Candor” on YouTube. Go to the 8 minute mark if you want to save time.)

Tears during feedback:

Useful feedback always has emotional impact. It may sting. It may energize. In time, a kick in the gut becomes a point of transformation.

Tears, when receiving feedback, aren’t the end of the world.

Crying indicates pain, a tender heart, or the desire to manipulate. In either case, offer some tissues and give them a moment. Sit back and relax.

Ask, “Would you like to talk about this after lunch?” if crying continues.

Manipulative tears are attempts to short-circuit the process. Stay focused on serving their highest good and press forward. Say, “This seems like a painful issue for you, but I believe it’s important. We need to press through.”

Tears from the tender-hearted suggest tenderness from you. Use a hammer with the hard-headed. A feather works with a tender heart.

Harsh words:

Anger, when receiving feedback, is an attempt to control, deflect, and/or save face. It serves the same purpose as manipulative crying.

  1. Soften your tone.
  2. Sit back in your chair.
  3. Open your posture. Uncross your arms, for example.
  4. Take a breath.
  5. Give them a moment. Give yourself a moment.
  6. Say, “I see you’re angry. What’s troubling about this?”
  7. Appreciate the reasons for their anger. “I hear what you’re saying…”
  8. Don’t feel a need to answer or soothe their anger. Just acknowledge it.
  9. “This feedback is important for you. Is it OK to continue?”
  10. Say what you see without judging or fixing.

The worst thing you can do is get sucked into someone’s anger.

Gossip after feedback:

Let it go, if it gradually goes away. People need to blow off steam and look powerful.

Deal with it, if gossip is a nagging issue that harms performance or morale. Meet with the gossip and say what you see/hear.

“I hear you aren’t happy with the feedback I gave you. I want my team to be happy. What would you like to do about this?” Don’t take responsibility for another person’s offense. Say, “What would ‘you’ like to do about this?”

Seek feedback on the way you give feedback. “How might I give tough feedback in the kindest way?”

Include them. “How might you help me build a positive work environment?” Get specific. If you can’t see it, it doesn’t matter.

What suggestions do you have when people cry, get angry, or gossip during the feedback cycle?

*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday