Taking things back to the source | Blue Sky

Taking things back to the source

One thing that I observe happening a lot in all types of businesses are what I call ‘corridor’ conversations. By that I mean the informal chats people have outside a room, by the water cooler or coffee station, or anywhere really. Sometimes it is just a catch-up and having a laugh, but sometimes it is to gripe about someone else in the business. The latter for me is what can have a really damaging impact on the culture of a business. If you listen carefully to these corridor conversations, you will often hear things like ‘I can’t believe my boss said that to me… he is useless’ or ‘I really don’t like the way John speaks to me’.

When we have an issue with someone or something, the most effective way to resolve things is to take the ‘issue’ back to the source. It works, but it takes courage.

If we take the opportunity to feedback how we feel about a situation and the impact it has had on us, and when we approach it from a position of curiosity, we start to create a feedback culture. By this we mean a culture where difficult conversations are had at all levels, ‘office’ politics are reduced, anxiety is minimised, and we can all learn from each other.

Sometimes we think it is our boss’s role to raise and resolve difficult issues that are hindering our team’s performance, yet in the corridor we express our frustration that they haven’t a clue what’s going on or don’t address problems to our satisfaction. We believe it is our boss’s job to deal with our peers whose behaviour is problematic, yet we complain to others when we don’t see any changes in how our colleagues act. We think our boss should intuitively know how they are contributing to our team’s problems, yet we don’t provide them with the information that would help them see this.

But is it our boss’s role? Or, do we all have a responsibility to address our own gripes and identify ways in which we can resolve differences in the team that are impacting how we feel or perform?

Have a look at this video of Saving Private Ryan; it takes a really interesting view on managing gripes.



Next time you find yourself griping about someone else, stop and think about how you can have the same conversation, but this time with the person you’re griping about (the source).



There are many great feedback models out there that can help you have this conversation, AID (action, impact and do) is an example of a tool that’s easy to use. I am not saying we should take every gripe back to the source; we all need to let off steam and have a moan on occasions. What’s most important is realising that if we are always griping and never take things back to the source, we can’t expect things to change for the better. Don’t be surprised if you still have difficulty communicating with individuals and don’t expect the culture to be a pleasant one to work in.

Here are five top tips to consider when taking things back to the source:  

  1. Be brave, if you ever find yourself having a moan about someone or something to a colleague, you’re talking to the wrong person. Take things ‘back to the source’ where they can be explored and fixed. When having this conversation consider:
    • Letting the person know immediately what you want to talk about and what your intent is
    • Asking the person what concerns, if any, he or she has about discussing this issue with you
    • Telling the person why you’re concerned about talking with them, focus on behaviour and not identity
    • Sharing the unsaid, say it with skill, but don’t hold things in your head that you want to say
    • Sharing your reasoning and check it out at each step
    • Asking for the other persons interpretation of the situation
    • Jointly determine the way forward, if possible
    • Being transparent, avoid delivering a **** sandwich
  1. Before feeding back to the source, gather specific evidence that you know to be true so you can give a balanced and objective view. This avoids any unnecessary misunderstanding, conflict and defensiveness. Be timely with your feedback, don’t let things fester for a long period of time.
  2. Being easy to give feedback to serves us all well in life – taking feedback graciously and being open to making a change is what we need everyone to practice doing every day (it’s really inspiring).
  3. Challenge people when you hear them griping, ask them ‘have you spoken to the person involved about it?’ Support them if they are feeling anxious about having the conversation.
  4. Stay curious before having the conversation. Our unconscious biases come into play in these situations and most of us go into challenging conversations with a semi-conscious, counterproductive agenda: we’re sure we know what the other person is thinking, or we simply don’t care what they are thinking. We just want things to go our way and we believe we are right.

To make the conversation useful, get curious about what you don’t know for sure. Find out what the other person’s position and underlying interests are? Do you know what assumptions they are making? Do you know what reasoning they used that led them to behave in a way that impacted badly on you? Find out what their thought process was that resulted in a conclusion you think makes no sense?

Practise completing this sentence as many times as necessary to identify what you need to learn: “One thing I don’t understand about how you are thinking about this situation is…” When you’re done, you’ll have a list of questions you can ask, not to use against the person, but to understand how and why they are seeing things differently.

Only when you really understand how their thinking differs from yours can you begin to work on bridging the gap and finding a solution that will work for both of you.

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