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How Learning to 'Manage Sideways' Can Totally Transform Your Career

Exchanging constructive feedback with your peers benefits everyone.

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As a manager, members of your team expect and even crave your feedback. Similarly, senior managers (or least those who are any good at their jobs) welcome feedback from junior professionals.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

But providing feedback laterally is a challenging workplace problem. Startup founders, entrepreneurs and other professionals often mistakenly assume that candor and cordial relationships with colleagues are diametrically opposed. In reality, the only way you can maintain a healthy relationship with the colleagues you rely on is to learn the art of “managing sideways.”

Related: 5 Steps for Giving Productive Feedback

Show that you care about your colleague’s success.

It is important that the person receiving the feedback believes it is coming from a good place. Otherwise, the person receiving the feedback may become defensive, and thus will ignore what you have to say in an effort to protect their ego.

Therefore, the first step to sharing feedback about areas of improvement with a colleague is to show that you care about their success. Simply asking about weekend plans or grabbing lunch together occasionally may not be enough to build a strong relationship.

Instead, you may need to help your colleague with their work or explicitly say that you are interested in helping them succeed. Do this without immediately providing feedback to show you’re sincere about wanting to help.

Related: This Is Why Employees Trust Their Co-Workers More Than You

Ask for feedback

By asking for feedback from your colleague, you can model what receiving feedback well should look like. If they provide you with feedback, it also sets the expectation that they should be prepared to receive feedback from you as well.

In my efforts to ensure that the feedback I receive is well thought out, I give a colleague a heads-up that I’d like to meet with them in the future to hear what they have to say about my performance. If the colleague focuses on my positive attributes, I push them to discuss areas for improvement.

Once feedback is shared, thank them for taking the time to help you make professional improvements. Doing so cements the idea that feedback is constructive, and helpful especially when feedback is related to areas for development.

Related: 5 Steps to Getting Better Employee Feedback (Even If You Hate It)

Survey the situation before making any suggestions.

You can quickly hurt your credibility if you provide feedback without first understanding the “why” behind your colleague’s choices. Before offering advice, make sure you understand the situation.

Try the “five whys” technique. It was created by Sakichi Toyoda, the grandfather of Toyota Motor Corp. Sakichi used this question-and-answer technique to get to the bottom of serious problems. The idea is to persistently ask why something has broken down until you get to a root cause. Similarly, you can unearth the root causes behind problems associated with colleagues by exploring the hidden reasons behind their actions.

Ask questions, and actively listen while fighting the temptation to share your thoughts on the spot. In addition to giving you the context you need to offer meaningful feedback, asking good questions shows that you care about your colleague.

Related: Ask These 7 Questions to Get the Honest Feedback You Need

Speak candidly while putting feedback in a positive context.

When the time comes to share feedback with a colleague cut to the chase. Don’t practice a “compliment sandwich.” People may just hold on to the positive aspect of your feedback while ignoring the meat in the middle.

Instead, make it clear that you’re providing feedback in an effort to help your colleague be even more successful. Then calmly deliver the most important, and potentially most critical, feedback. End the meeting by contextualizing the feedback positively. The message should be something like “Once you are able to make the discussed change, I have no doubt that you’ll become an even stronger professional.”

Related: 5 Positive Ways to Constructively Critique Employees

Learn the difference between feedback, praise and criticism.

Paise happens when someone says, “Great job” without context. Criticism happens when someone says, “That won’t work” without context. In either case, praise and criticism are not feedback. In fact, they can be significantly less constructive then even the most critical feedback.

That’s because feedback provides the person on the other end with a detailed explanation as to why they did a good or bad job, and offers suggestions for future improvements. Praise and criticism offer no context, and therefore, the person on the other end doesn’t know how they can continue doing a good job or stop doing a bad job.

Turn moments of praise or criticism into feedback by being mindful about your word choice.

Whether you’re a startup founder struggling to provide feedback to a co-founder, or a manager who must collaborate with a fellow manager, being able to provide candid feedback to peers is a critical skill.

To provide feedback in any direction, you first must show the other person that you care about their success and that you understand their situation. Once that’s been established, provide direct feedback that details the issue and proposes an alternative. If you think it’s helpful, end the meeting by explaining how improving the identified issue can benefit them.

John Boitnott

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.