I've come across two wonderful feedback formats for helping your colleagues deal with difficult situations. First one is from David Emerald; I read about it when doing research for my post The Drama Triangle. Second one is from Buckingham and Goodall's article "The Feedback Fallacy" which I wrote about last week.

Both of these formats are meant for situations where your colleague is trying to fix issues such as their alarming career trajectory (not enough responsibility, uninspiring work, too little salary, etc.), a struggling project, or dysfunctional team dynamics. If you need to discuss areas of improvement with your colleague, consider reading "Blunt Feedback".

Both of these formats are also about asking the right questions – not about giving the right answers. In addition to making sure that the majority of your feedback is positive (research shows that we actually learn more when we get positive feedback and not when our grammar gets corrected by our colleagues), you should remember to avoid handing out quick fixes to your colleagues. Helping our colleagues think productively about their problems – not solving the problems for them – is our gift to them.

I'll introduce both of the formats briefly and then share my own notes about them. Feel free to make your own conclusions about Emerald, Buckingham, and Goodall's work.

Emerald asks the following three questions from his colleagues when they come to him for advice:

  1. "What do you want?" When dealing with tension and stress, we often focus on the things we don't want or like. Put the focus back on outcomes with this question.
  2. "What are your current realities?" We don't have to pretend that limitations don't exist.
  3. "What are the steps you can take?"

And here's Buckingham and Goodall version:

  1. What's working for you right now? Focusing on positive things opens us up for more creative and open-minded thinking. Think of this question as warm-up for your colleague's brain.
  2. What has previously worked for you when solving similar problems?
  3. What do you already know works in this situation? Assume your colleague knows the answer to their problem once they have reflected on their strengths and past experiences.

Both of these formats share a similar flow: First, we should help our colleague direct their thinking away from the negative. We want our colleagues to focus on visions and personal strengths – not problems and everything that's wrong with their current situation.

Second, we offer a way to structure our colleague's thinking. Emerald frames the problem as a puzzle by establishing concrete limits. Buckingham and Goodall frame the problem as a pattern recognition challenge by trying to find similarities with past problems.

Third, we trust our colleague to know what to do. We can share some of our own experience and knowledge with them but the focus should remain on our colleague and their reflection.

Hope you get a chance to practice these questions. You can even try the formats on yourself the next time you're hoping for some good advice.