Have you ever needed to push a staff member or a team for more but didn’t know how? Maybe you needed to see a more realistic plan for equitable outcomes, attention to timely communication, or next-level ideas. Perhaps you tried with some success, but your attempt to inspire a big reach landed like a reprimand.
When we say push, we don’t mean shoving someone into the deep end without a life raft; we mean setting a high bar and being honest when something needs improvement. Done with care and compassion, this kind of feedback can strengthen the work and the people. It’s also a core part of your job as a manager.
Here’s some language you can use to push people (in a good way). Tip: Always start with connection and curiosity.
“So that I understand better, what’s involved in making this happen? Do you think you can finish X step this week instead of next week?”
“Suppose we had to get this done by Thursday. What would it take to do that?”
“This one piece doesn’t feel up to your usual standard of excellence. What would it take to get it there?”
“What would you do with this if you were able to spend a little more time on it?”
“I’m picturing (major funder/community partner) seeing this and wondering about X. What do you think it’ll take to strengthen this?”
On racial equity and inclusion outcomes
“I really appreciate X in this plan. How do you envision engaging the communities most impacted by that?”
“What barriers are creating the disparity in participation/access for X community? What explicit objectives (systems/advocacy/resources) could we add to address this?”
“Walk me through the feedback that emerged from X project (in terms of who felt included/excluded). What will you do to prevent that next time?”
On implicit bias and navigating lines of difference
“In Y project/meeting, what did you notice about who participated? I noticed X. What can we do moving forward to have more balanced participation?”
“What are the biases you have to check before you make that decision? For instance, when you look at the last decision you made on [hiring, feedback, delegation, outreach, etc.], do you see any unintended consequences you can address proactively?”
“X team member let me know they shared feedback with you about how Y impacted them. It sounds like this was a tough moment. What was your experience of the situation? What did you learn from what they shared?”
On sustainability and pacing the work
“Imagine you could take X weeks off with no big consequences for the work. Talk me through what would need to shift or drop. What’s in the way of that?”
“I know Z situation is really hard right now. What do you think you can [change, share, delay, reassign] while you take care of what’s needed [at home, with an unexpected work issue, etc.]?”
“When you think about X project as a marathon (not a sprint), what’s one thing that—if we changed it—would set a realistic pace for the next six weeks?”
On the logic or feasibility of an idea
“Here’s what gives me pause about that… ”
“Can you say more about how that would work? What’s a realistic example?”
“I can imagine someone hearing this and saying X—what would you say to that?”
When we respond well to feedback, we strengthen relationships and trust, increase the likelihood that we’ll keep getting it, and contribute to a culture of growth, candor, and rigor within our teams. Here’s our best advice for receiving feedback, focused on the parts that you have control over.