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Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

This article was based on episode 032 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Do you still remember that uncomfortable, nerve-wracking or awkward feedback conversation you had with your manager, a colleague or direct report? I do. There are a few that get replayed over and over in my mind. I keep wondering, how could I have handled that differently?

In episode 032 of the Modern Manager podcast I speak with Robleh Kirce, Head of Coaching at LifeLabs. His research centers on transformative leadership experiences, behavioral-based 360 tools, leadership skills under pressure, and workplace habits that drive change.


“Difficult conversations can be broken into two big buckets: 1. The classic feedback scenario when you give critical or negative feedback, and 2. The conflict resolution conversation, which often happens if the classic feedback scenario did not work.” -- Robleh Kirce

For many people, even the idea of initiating or having a difficult conversation produces anxiety. To make these conversations more productive and little less scary, first validate your feelings.

It’s totally normal to feel anxious, nervous, frustrated, or angry prior to a difficult conversation. Before providing any feedback, intentionally confront the negative emotions you’re feeling. Mentally acknowledge your emotions by thinking “I feel frustrated,” “I feel annoyed,” or “I feel angry.” to help move from an emotional state to a more rational state.

Other approaches to calm your system include taking some deep breaths. It’s always better to enter a difficult conversation feeling calm.


Part of the anxiety we experience when entering a feedback meeting is because we haven't properly set up the conversation. Robleh shared the four-step process they use in LifeLabs to prepare for every feedback session.

1. Check in to make sure the other person is okay to have this conversation. “Can I talk to you for a minute” basically equals alarm bells. When you surprise someone, it spikes their emotional experience by up to 400%. Avoid triggering the other person’s emotional system before the conversation even starts by instead alerting them to the nature of your request. Try saying “Hey, is it okay if we chat about how that meeting went?” or “Do you have a minute to discuss your contributions to this project?”

2. Start with data-driven feedback. Feedback that you can’t capture on camera is open to interpretation. Before sharing your feelings - “I felt like you were being rude” - explain what you observed - “I noticed you interrupted the client a number of times.” Just get the facts on the table. Say exactly what behaviors you noticed, without expanding on them.

3. Talk about the impact of your observation. Once the facts are clear, explain the impact and why this behavior is concerning. For example, “I’m worried the client won’t renew her contract with us if we don’t let her speak freely in our meetings.”

4. Open up the floor to hear their perspective. You’ve gotten to share your experience. Now it’s time to let them share theirs. In addition, ask them what they want to do as a result of this feedback. If the feedback conversation doesn’t lead to a natural resolution, transition to a problem-solving conversation.


There are times when as a receiver of feedback will react emotionally. This is most often because something the feedback giver has triggered your ego. When we receive feedback that doesn’t jive with our sense of self, our ego takes over. How could this feedback possibly be true?!

Sometimes this results in intense defensiveness. Other times, the person may become overly apologetic. Neither is helpful. Ideally, feedback is received with the same calm, logical approach by which it is given.


Lack of trust is a basis for a toxic work environment, which can affect your credibility when giving feedback. When people talk about negative behaviors and opinions about one another, in essence, they are gossiping.

If someone’s behavior isn’t working for you, confront them directly. Talking about it with colleagues rarely has positive intent or outcomes. The single exception is speaking with your manager. Approach that conversation with the frame of, "I want your help to address this situation appropriately," not, “I’m here to complain” or "I want you to solve this for me."

There is an equation that sums this up. Trust is equal to credibility, multiplied by reliability, multiplied by intimacy, over self orientation.

  • Credibility: Do you have the competence to do the things you say you can do?

  • Reliability: Do you do the things you say you're going to do?

  • Intimacy: Have we had self-disclosing conversations in the past and been vulnerable with each other, talking about our own challenges?

  • Self-orientation: Do I believe that you're here just to help yourself or do I believe that you're here to help me as well?

We trust people, and listen to their feedback, when we seem them as credible and reliable, have a relationships in which we’re willing to be vulnerable with each other, and believe they have our best interests at heart.


Colleagues and direct reports may be hesitant to share feedback with you even after you’ve explicitly asked for it. Try these approaches to ease the process:

1. Narrow the focus of your request. Ask for feedback on a very specific topic or area of your work or behavior.

2. Give them time to think. Make the request but don’t ask for an immediate response. Instead, schedule a time in na few days to get together to discuss their reflections.

3. Frame it as a request for pro-tips. Rather than asking for what you did/do poorly, ask for suggestion or pro-tips for doing even better in the future.

Giving and receiving feedback directly is useful, not just in the workplace but in our everyday lives. What feedback have you been delaying? Who might you ask for feedback from?

This article was based on episode 032 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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