At ConvergenceCoaching, we believe in a get-better culture, where every individual at all levels should be striving to continually improve. A critical element that drives the get-better culture is feedback – sharing of information about what’s working, what isn’t, and what is possible. Feedback is critical to learning about ourselves and the things we own. With feedback, we can adjust and improve. Without it, we’re blind to the changes we need to make.

Universally, leaders tell us that the hardest feedback to deliver is to peers and superiors, or what we call side-stream or upstream feedback. We teach leaders powerful feedback strategies like the Keep, Stop, Start (KSS) method or the EOIS method; however, with certain side-stream or upstream feedback, KSS and EOIS can feel assumptive or out of place.

In this blog, we’ll walk you through two impactful side-stream or upstream feedback methods that will help you shift the thinking and actions of your peers and superiors.

Before tackling a feedback conversation, we recommend that you start by getting centered on the facts of the issue at hand. It’s natural as human beings to be caught up in our story of the situation, and usually we put all of the responsibility over there with the other party and take none of it on ourselves. Great leaders look instead at how they could be 100% responsible for the issue or problem that’s occurring, generating positive interpretations for the situation. Write down your negative interpretations too, to get them out of your head and allow you to enter the conversation clear of any pre-judgments for why the conflict is occurring.

Once you’ve completed this pre-work, schedule an appropriate time to talk to your conflict partner, ideally in a private setting when they’ll be able to give you their full attention. Start by asking permission, saying something like “I wanted to share some feedback on how things are going with the new workflow program” or “do you have a moment for some feedback on the way we’re facilitating the departmental meetings?”

Information Sharing Method

When using the Information Sharing Method, your goal is to share an insight or information that will help your conflict partner see opportunities for change. Often that information comes from an outside source – an expert, a respected firm, a trusted vendor – to provide perspective and a proven way of managing an issue. To illustrate, let’s explore an example of a fellow senior manager who is leading the departmental meetings in an autocratic way that leaves little space for others, especially younger team members, to contribute meaningfully.

“I just finished an article about ways to better engage our team members. It said ‘If you want your teams to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging. The most powerful way to do this is to give people the opportunity to participate in problem-solving and meaningful strategy conversations.’ We have a number of challenges to solve in our department, and I love the idea of making more room for innovation and improvements driven by our team members.

It struck me that the way we’re facilitating the departmental meeting might not offer room for this type of innovation. The managers are mostly reporting in the meeting and not leaving room to hear from others. What do you think about the possibility of making the meetings more interactive and asking for more input from participants? How would you feel about changing our meeting facilitation approach to be more inclusive of other views?”

Then stop and listen. Be prepared to offer examples of how your solution could work differently. Allow for back and forth in the conversation as your peer processes the feedback you’ve raised. Lastly, be prepared to revisit the issue in a future conversation if your conflict partner needs additional time to think through the feedback.

The information-sharing method is effective upstream as well. Consider the example of a Partner who recently made a sludge-y statement about remote team members during the weekly scheduling meeting. You could approach that partner, ask to share a thought with them, and say,

“I’ve been reading ConvergenceCoaching’s guidance on managing a remote workforce and one thing they warn against is sludge. Sludge is negative comments that reinforce old ideas, and in the case of remote work, old ideas about how work can get done. Yesterday when you made that comment about the Jones Project being high profile and requiring someone you can count on, you said that you’ll need an in-office team member. I wonder if your statement might be sludge. What do you think?”

The Palms-up Request

The Palms-up Request is a powerful and impactful feedback method as well. It focuses less on the problem and more on making a request or asking for change in the form of help to you or your team. It requires those who use it to be vulnerable about their challenges, concerns, and fears. It takes humility, which is the opposite of being proud or certain (and think about when you’re concerned or upset, you’re usually sure you’re right!). Mindset is critical when entering this conversation, making the pre-work described earlier where you generate positive interpretations and think through what you can do differently incredibly important to your success.

Let’s consider the conflict of a partner who is jumping the FIFO queue in individual tax preparation. You could setup your Palms-up request like this:

“I’ve come to ask for your help. Our staff and seniors take great comfort in the certainty they have with our FIFO system of tax prep. They have had a stressful year and feel pressure due to recent turnover. I’m asking you and all other partners to commit to following our FIFO system. That means not jumping the queue or moving work ahead of anyone else’s so we can maintain harmony with the staff. I really need the turnover to settle down in this group and to minimize the upset these people experience. Can I count on you for your commitment to follow the FIFO system from here forward? And, if you feel a situation merits an exception, will you come to me to discuss it before moving ahead in the queue?”

Then pause and leave space for the partner to respond. Be prepared to share additional impacts of their behavior, if necessary, like the perceived unfairness of their actions to other partners, senior managers, and managers. And share your own commitments in the situation – to the staff and seniors and creating a manageable workload that has them feeling like they are winning, or to this partner in having a willing and engaged team ready to complete their work.

To truly solve the challenges present in your firm, you need to open the information channels between yourself and your colleagues. We hope that these two feedback methods will expand your methods for speaking your truth. Where can you put these ideas into action today? Give both a try and let us know how it goes!