Koan #12: Teach Me To Fish

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 19 Apr 2021 newsletter.


One of your peers has been given a task and has completed it before the deadline. Your manager confides in you that the work is not up to the required standard and that your manager plans to improve it themselves before sending it to the stakeholders. As far as you know, your peer is not aware that their work was not up to standard. What do you do?

Option A - Do nothing, it is between your peer and your manager.

Option B - Ask your manager if he has given or plans to give the feedback to your peer.

Option C - Ask your peer if they asked for any feedback from the manager.

Option D - Offer the peer to review their work.


On the one hand the manager may be validating their thoughts with you. On the other hand, they may just be venting. In either case, the situation puts you in an awkward position where silence may feel like complacency, and trying to stop or change this behavior may come across as confrontational. It is best to understand the manager’s point of view, by asking them if they have already talked about it with your peer (Option B). As two of the subscribers wrote - there may be a reason why they decided not to share the feedback, and it could also let your manager know that you would also like feedback on your work. However, if the situation evolves into a discussion about what to say to the peer and how, you should not assume the responsibility to offer advice, as it may backfire in a variety of ways. As in Option A, this issue is between your peer and your manager. Askamanager.com suggests a phrase like “Whoa, this is above my pay grade! I don’t think I can help, but maybe ____ could.” (Fill in with the name of his own manager, or possibly someone in HR). We would add that a gentle acknowledgement of the situation had world for us before. Something along the lines of, ‘I feel uncomfortable discussing this. Could we move on to the next subject?’

Both options C and D could put you in an awkward position. If the manager decided not to give feedback deliberately, nudging your colleague may cause a confrontation with the manager. Giving your feedback is probably best before they show their work to the manager. While your feedback might be useful for your peer, it can also be completely different from the manager’s expectations. That is not to say, “never give feedback.” It really depends on the individual situation and relationship with the peer. It is probably fine if you both are working closely together, know the project well, and can sense-check one another before handing in the work.

Ultimately, in a situation like this, it is the manager’s responsibility to provide or withhold feedback. Whether due to a lack of experience or some other reason - just knowing that they withheld the feedback can make you feel disappointed. The best thing to do is to give a signal that you yourself are open to positive and constructive feedback. As for the peer, look for an opportunity to collaborate on the next task, but avoid being imposing or coming across as trying to manage your peer.