How to Receive DICEY Feedback

Google “feedback is a gift” and you’ll find enough quotes to fill a high school yearbook. While skeptics might disagree, there’s no denying it: providing direct feedback is one of the most powerful tools managers have for developing staff. In this article of our feedback series, we’ll talk about how to receive feedback on DICEY issues using our PARTNER framework.

In our last article about DICEY feedback, we talked about icebergs—where a seemingly simple problem is attached to a much larger issue. It’s natural (and, in many cases, easier) to focus on resolving the first layer of the iceberg—the presenting conflict. But, at a minimum, managers should dig for underlying and relational issues. Why? Because focusing on the presenting conflict puts you at great risk of missing the forest for the trees. At best, you resolve what you think the problem is, but the real problem might rear its head again later on (and at that point, it might have gotten even worse). At worst, you cause long-term damage to your relationship and your results. How can you avoid this? Be an excellent recipient of feedback.

As managers relating to our staff, we’re more likely to give feedback than receive it. It’s often not an expectation or norm for staff to give feedback to their managers and giving (critical) feedback is trickier and riskier when there are power dynamics at play. On top of that, if the feedback is on a DICEY issue (related to diversity, inclusion, culture, equity, or you), it can be especially stressful for your staff to share it, which means you may not get that feedback until it’s too late (if ever). How can you make it easier for your staff to share DICEY feedback so that you can build trust and psychological safety, and identify and resolve issues sooner? By demonstrating that you’re open and able to receive it—and treating your ability to do so as a crucial management skill. This is especially important if there are lines of power and difference between you and your staff. If you are part of a dominant group (e.g., you are white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, etc) and you don’t want your privilege to get in the way of being an excellent manager, consider receiving feedback a core competency.

How to receive input on DICEY issues by PARTNERing on the iceberg:

Press pause
Ask questions
Tie together
New paths are possible
Examine how it went
Remember the iceberg

Part 1: Listen effectively across lines of difference, identity, and power.

In order to dig below the surface, resist the urge to defend your ideas, persuade the other person, or problem-solve. Take the time to understand what’s really going on by doing the following first:

  1. Press pause. Slowing down helps us listen better. Get yourself into an open mindset by reminding yourself that there’s no need to judge, decide, solve, or refute. Honestly assess how you’re feeling. Defensiveness, anger, and resentment are all valid feelings that can get in the way of listening. Take a breath and, before saying anything else, thank them for bringing it up.
  2. Ask questions. Probe deeper to see more of the iceberg, not to validate or test any assumptions that you might have. Try these questions:
    1. Is there more to this feedback, or anything beneath this feedback?
    2. Is this connected to any patterns that you have noticed?
    3. Is there any context that you think I might be missing?
    4. If we were to move on as planned, what do you think would be at stake? What do you think the impact would be?
  3. Repeat-back (not refute-back!). Check that you’re fully understanding what’s going on for them, and give them a chance to correct any misunderstandings. Highlight any areas of agreement.

Part 2: Engage toward more inclusive expectations.

Once you’re on the same page about the content of the input, reinforce that you’re on the same team by problem-solving together. Note that this doesn’t have to happen in the same conversation as part one. It is okay—and sometimes even better—to take some time to process and reflect after you’ve listened, asked questions, and done your repeat-back.

  1. Transparently share and tie together. Share what you’re thinking and feeling. This is your chance to bring your staff in as a collaborator, especially if you are facing pressures or have context that they might not know about. Then, tie together what’s true for both of you, understanding that your experiences do not have to be mutually exclusive. Sample language you can use…
…to transparently share: …to tie together:
  • The truth is, I feel like I can’t/must do X because…
  • I’m feeling nervous/stressed/cautious about…
  • I’m feeling a lot of pressure around X because…
  • I think where we’re totally aligned is…
  • I love what you said about X and I completely agree.
  • I think we both want X, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get there.
  1. New paths are possible. Think of ways to move forward that go beyond either/or (100% your way or my way). Seek out a third (or fourth, or fifth…) path or, if you can’t take a new course, look for mitigations to address the issues that are being raised.

Part 3: Learn with and through an equity and inclusion lens.

You can’t solve an iceberg issue in a single conversation, but you can use that conversation to get better at spotting and addressing similar issues.

  1. Examine how it went. Once decisions have been made, get meta: schedule a time to debrief the interaction itself to assess how you handled their input, or put it on your next check-in agenda. In the debrief, you can simply ask for a plus/delta. Remember that this conversation is about learning from the interaction to make it easier to receive feedback in the future; it’s not about debriefing the decision itself (though you may want to do that at another point).
  2. Remember the iceberg! Let this interaction open your eyes to other potential DICEY issues as you move forward. More importantly, make space to check in on how things are going and seek opportunities to continue the conversation before issues arise.

Remember our scenario in which you’re the field director, and your field organizer shares some tough feedback? Check out how it might play out using PARTNER.

Check out the other articles in our feedback series: