How to Spot 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 look at the other side of the coin—when you, the manager, are the recipient. Specifically, we’ll discuss how you can tell when you’re receiving feedback on a DICEY issue. Not sure what “DICEY” is? Read on!

Imagine this: you’re the field director of a statewide LGBTQ organization and you’ve spent the last two months drafting and refining your team’s goals for the following year. You’ve consulted with your staff and executive director, and you feel like you’ve finally landed in a good place. Two days before your ED plans to bring the goals to the Board for approval, a field organizer approaches you and says, “I’m not sure that the goals are achievable.” After you probe a bit, she shares that the goal you’ve set for turning out Latinx people (a community of which you’re not a part) at Lobby Days is tokenizing, and that goes against your organization’s mission and the intention of the work. This is your first time hearing this concern from anyone. In addition to feeling a little blindsided, you’re not totally convinced.


What do you do? Do you thank her for sharing, promise to take her input into account in executing the work, but forge ahead anyway? Or do you pull the brakes and tell your ED the goals aren’t ready?

Whether you’re a field director, chief of staff, or school principal—if you’ve ever been given challenging feedback from someone you manage on a decision you were responsible for making, this situation probably feels familiar.

At TMC, this is what we’d call a DICEY issue. DICEY feedback is anything related to diversity, inclusion, culture, equity, or you (yes, you!). DICEY feedback is often a clue that tells you there’s an “iceberg,” where the problem on the surface is attached to a larger, multi-layered, and complex issue. How you engage with that staff member who raised the concern and how you tackle the issue they raise could have significant implications not just for your working relationship, but also your organization’s equity and inclusion journey and overall effectiveness. Here, we present a framework to help you listen for the concern beneath the concern.

[Image description: There is a ship approaching an iceberg that has one layer above water, and many layers underwater. The layer above water reads: 1. Presenting conflict – What you think it is. The rest of the layers (2 through 5) are bracketed as “Better to surface more layers of the iceberg”: *2. Underlying Issue – Related to the immediate work (often DICEY), *3. Relational Issue – When trust between you can be built or broken, 4. Structural Issue – Connects to patterns of disparate impact in the org, 5. Systemic Issue – Mirrors systemic oppression in the world. *Focus on 2 & 3 first.]


For the scenario described above, let’s take a look at the layers of the iceberg:

[Image description: With an iceberg in the background, this graphic is a list entitled “Layers of the Iceberg: Surface D.I.C.E.Y. Issues.” It reads: 1. Presenting conflict – Field Organizer doesn’t believe that the goals are achievable. 2. Underlying Issue – She sees one of the goals as tokenizing to her community, which goes against the intention of the work. 3. Relational – She’s hoping that you’ll trust her to engage with her on this. 4. Structural – In this organization, Field Organizers are the lowest paid, the least supported in terms of administrative support, are rarely asked for input on big decisions, and where the highest turnover is. 5. Systemic – There’s a broad progressive movement pattern of Field Organizers of color being the least likely to be seen as having management potential and least likely to advance into leadership positions.]


Of course, it may not always be so clear when something is the tip of an iceberg. Sometimes your staff will come to you with a problem that is exactly what you think it is and resolving it will be fairly simple. Other times, you’ll be presented with an ostensibly simple problem that turns out to be a huge can of worms. So, how can you figure out if there’s an iceberg?

Below are some questions you can ask yourself (to reflect on what other factors might be at play) and them (to dig deeper for the potential DICEY issue):

Questions to ask yourself Questions to ask them
  • Has this issue come up before (either with this person or another staff member)?
  • Is this input about diversity, equity, or inclusion?
  • What could be at stake for the person sharing this feedback with me? What risks might they be taking in sharing this feedback?
  • Are there lines of difference, privilege, and/or power between the two of us?
  • What values do I share with this person? What values are they defending? What values am I defending? How can these values co-exist?
  • Is there more to this feedback, or anything beneath this feedback?
  • Is this connected to any patterns that you have noticed?
  • Is there any context that you think I might be missing?
  • If we were to move on as planned, what do you think would be at stake? What do you think the impact would be?

Recognizing that there could be an iceberg when a staff member raises concerns can help you navigate issues of equity and inclusion more effectively. Stay tuned for our upcoming article about how to respond to DICEY feedback!


Check out the other articles in our feedback series: