Nick Ang

Direct feedback

June 03, 2020

At work recently I noticed one of my colleagues exhibiting less than ideal behaviour during his support shift and I wanted to give him feedback. But I hesitated and almost didn’t.

First, a bit of context: I’m in the team in our company that is, among other things, charged with ensuring that we maintain and scale our world-class customer support. That part of my job keeps me looking out for ways to improve our internal processes related to support.

The behaviour I noticed was that he was sitting on a chat for longer than necessary. I’ve seen some colleagues do this in order to not have to take on a new customer support chat, perhaps because it has been a stressful enough day or that they have something more pressing to attend to. To me, however, this is not acceptable unless the circumstances are extraordinary because doing so compromises our promise to our customers. I’m of the opinion that if you really need to attend to something, say it out clearly that this is an exception and then be on your way. People can empathise that life is chaotic and take one for the team. Or if it’s something you could have foreseen before the start of your shift, then make the necessary arrangements for someone to cover you for that hour. Sitting on a chat so that it makes you look “already busy” and frees you to do something else shows a lack of integrity and erodes trust. And I don’t want to work in a company where people don’t trust one another.

Now on to the reason why I almost didn’t give feedback. This colleague is in a management role. In Smartly.io we call them Team Leads.

I’m not one to reserve special treatment to people because of their titles, but there was a voice in my head whispering to me that I should perhaps reconsider whether to give him feedback directly. I feared that he would feel embarrassed that someone like me, whatever that entailed to him, would point out something about him directly.

So I hestitated in giving feedback and considered the alternatives. What were my options to get my feedback across to him?

The one that I almost ended up opting for was to pass the feedback to him through my own team lead. Effectively, this would be the approach that I would have been trained to take in the military to obey the chain of command. But then I realised that this probably will not save him the embarrassment and could even exacerbate it, seeing that now there would be one additional person who is in the loop.

The real benefit of this approach would have been to save me the need to put my reputation, at least in the eyes of this colleague, on the line, since I wouldn’t need to face up to his potential rebuttal or refusal to receive the feedback. That’s not a benefit to him or the company. It’s also not hard to see how it could backfire and make him madder than if I were to tell him myself.

Other options:

  • Tell him directly by calling him out on the video conference call that he should not be doing this
  • Save myself the trouble and gossip about his bad behaviour the next time I’m talking to my teammates, in hopes that someone will actually pass the feedback on to him while I vented my frustration
  • Tell his manager so that his manager would then give him the feedback

Quickly enough, I realised that none of the options were great. The only option I truly had, the one that would not erode trust and might actually build more of it, is to give feedback directly to him. I wish there was another way where I could get the feedback across to him without sounding like a know-it-all or an asshole, but couldn’t find one. Then I remembered what I’d read in Radical Candour by Kim Scott: radical candour > obnoxious aggression (asshole) > ruinous empathy > manipulative insincerity. The line between radical candour and obnoxious aggression is not always so clear, but either is still better than the other two or inaction.

I ended up giving him feedback directly in a direct message and I’m relieved that he took it well. Good for us at Smartly.io that we know the importance of hiring people who share the same values as the existing employees.


Wednesday, 11:22pm. Enjoying the fact that the sky only went dark at 10:15pm today in Berlin.

Berlin summer


Written by Nick - I don't know but I'll learn (twitter)

Nick Ang © 2020

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