With Feedback, It's Kind to be Firm


A couple of weeks ago at our Managing One-on-One workshop, Esther and I were teaching about how to give feedback. Here's the “recipe”:

  • Create an opening to deliver feedback.
  • Describe the behavior or result in a way the person can hear.
  • State the impact using “I” language.
  • Make a request for changed behavior.

When we teach feedback, we ask people to practice giving feedback using this structure. Some people take to the structure right away; some need to practice. One of the teams in the workshop had a little trouble giving feedback about hygiene. The feedback giver “fluffed it up” instead of getting to the point. The feedback giver said something like this (all names and situation changed):

“Raymond, got a few minutes?”


“Good. I wanted to talk to you about something. How're those Red Sox?” (and more like this for a couple of minutes) Raymond, I have to tell you something.

“What do you need to tell me???” (in a strangled tone of voice)

“Have you considered using mouthwash?”

The feedback receiver sat there with his mouth open, wondering what the heck was going on.

At that point, Esther and I intervened to help move the conversation back on track. Here's another way for that conversation to proceed:

“Raymond, got a few minutes?”


“Good. Raymond, I'm not sure you realize this. When I work with you on the budget, I can smell your breath. The smell is bothering me, so much that I'm not happy about working with you that closely. Is there something you can do?

“Oh no.”


“Of course there's something I can do! Let me use one of those breath mint strips. And, if I forget, just tell me, ok?”

A completely different conversation. Giving people personal feedback isn't easy, and it's necessary to keep a smooth working relationship. The quicker you are, as the feedback giver, to make your point, the kinder the feedback is. As someone in the workshop said, “It's kind to be firm.”

5 thoughts on “With Feedback, It's Kind to be Firm”

  1. This problem can be found anywhere, not just at work.
    For some strange reason, you are not supposed to tell a person he has a bed mouth smell. I was glad to read this example; I face this problem often and never dared to do anything about it.
    I am not sure the second way presented will not make Raymond react the same way.
    It is better, but not by much. Body odors are considered very personal. I do believe that you should ask the person if you can ask him something personal, that he might not be aware of, before you go straight to the point.

  2. I can’t imagine anything more offensive than getting an anonymous email. Why would I believe it?

    It’s worth the brief embarrassment to have a conversation and make a person-to-person connection.

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