Giving Direct Feedback: Antidote for Backstabbing and Backbiting

Open & Direct Feedback: Best Approach for Team Harmony

You know it’s interesting. Every now and then when one works with a team there is feedback that some of the concepts covered are basic. I am talking about content like Groupthink, brainstorming tools and today’s topic, “giving direct feedback”.

I know that some eyes are already glazing over and that some regular readers probably haven’t bothered to click on this link. After all, giving constructive feedback is SO basic that it is covered in  frontline supervisory training for first time supervisors. So why am I devoting space to it? It’s simple. People may know the steps for giving direct feedback but they still aren’t practicing it. I see this in corporate teams all the time.


  • A trainer was pregnant. She was not at the stage that it was showing but her clothes were starting to get a bit tight. A manager who attended a training and development programme went to the trainer’s male director and complained. The director indicated that there was no reason for him to be involved  in this discussion. He acted correctly by re-directing the individual back to the trainer to provide feedback.
  • An RSS feed shared my blog “What does ‘real” team building look like?” on a social media platform. An individual who purports to provide “team building” but who in fact offers recreational programmes took exception to what I wrote. Although this is an individual who I have met personally, she went behind my back, complained, and accused me of posting anonymously or getting someone to post the blog for me.

How cowardly?

I am still stunned that anyone would feel I would have a need to do that. I addressed this directly with the individual and sent her a copy of this blog. I couldn’t help thinking, “What kind of “team building” could she possibly be offering if she is incapable of handling something as basic as giving direct feedback?

  • Since we are speaking about social media, I want to share what I have observed managing on-line communities since Geocities days. It is interesting that, instead of using channels provided for giving constructive feedback (e.g. flag discussions that are of concern, sending private messages to offer suggestions for improvement), individuals opt to cut other moderators and community members up behind their back.

As far as I am concerned, this is behaviour that one would expect from kindergarten children, not business executives and mature professionals. As we say in Jamaica, this is “pickney business” (childish) and even children in nursery school are taught not to be tattle-tales.

What is backbiting?

backstabbing2Definition: To slander the absent, like a dog biting behind the back, where one cannot see; to go about as a talebearer.

Backbiting is not giving feedback. It is cowardly, hostile and passive-aggressive behaviour.

Backstabbing, backbiting, and complaining about team members without first trying to resolve issues with them privately and directly plays out in a highly destructive manner in corporations.

It can jeopardize a professional’s reputation and livelihood. Nothing destroys team spirit and harmony more quickly.

Perhaps it is my Jamaican background that makes this type of backbiting particularly distasteful to me. Jamaicans have a strong cultural bias against backbiting.

Jamaican Proverbs

Popular Jamaican sayings about backbiting include:
“Carry go bring come is a very dangerous thing”.
(Backbiting, carrying news and gossip, called suss-suss, are dangerous.)

The classic ska hit Carry Go Bring Come by Justin Hinds & The Dominoes addressed this:

“Cockroach no have no business in a fowl fight” (Don’t interfere in other people’s conflicts or drag other people into yours.)
“Any dog who will drag a bone into your yard will carry a bone from your yard to your neighbours.” (Don’t trust any business colleague or co-worker who comes to you with gossip or tales about someone else.)

Backbiting in Reggae

In fact, U Roy and some of our other famous reggae artists have addressed this in international reggae hits. Enjoy:

I can’t find a Youtube clip for this but also listen to U Roy’s track called “Evil Doers” on the U Roy Original DJ Album. If you find it, please tweet it to me @executiveoasis or share the link in the comments. The lyrics include:

“If your works are really evil you gotta back right out a dat…and so mi say you gotta step right out a dat….and so mi say no more fussing and a fighting….. and so me say no more backbiting.”

Update: I found it.

What the Bible says about Backbiting

This type of behaviour has been around since the dawn of time. In fact, backbiting is even addressed in the Bible and literally translated as “a third person’s tongue.” It is sometimes referred to as “tale-bearing”.

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

The Best Approach to Giving Feedback

So, while I am tempted to review the basic steps of giving feedback, I will simply state that the best approach to delivering feedback without undermining team harmony is to give it honestly, privately, and directly to the individuals involved. If you can’t resolve it, then the two of you can jointly involve another party to help you work things out.

I can’t take credit for this. It’s in the Bible. Check out Matthew 18:15 – 17. It was written for believers in the early church but there would be a lot more harmony in corporations if people applied these simple principles.

Why is this so hard? I don’t for a moment think it is because people don’t know how to give feedback. They simply choose to tiptoe around and try to make trouble for co-workers or competitors behind their backs. It’s hard to imagine anything more evil or vindictive.

That’s just my take on it. I am curious to have reactions from others to the following questions:

  • “What steps can executives take to discourage these negative practices?”
  • “Why do professionals who feel that they are beyond fundamentals find it difficult to “man up” and express their concerns directly and in a mature manner?”
  • “Why do team members and competitors resort to destructive behaviour like backbiting instead of providing direct, honest, and constructive behaviour?”

I look forward to comments and it would be interesting to hear proverbs and sayings from other cultures that are related to backbiting.

Photo Credit: Shimona Carvalho

3 thoughts on “Giving Direct Feedback: Antidote for Backstabbing and Backbiting

  1. beautyparlour05 says:

    Wow! I really like this. Backbiting is cowardly. A back biter is someone who cannot and will not stand up for his/her views, observations, opinions. Backbiting shows a mind not fully formed. If you have an opinion or an observation please give it. If you are not sure about it, you may kindly keep quiet until you can speak up and stand up for it.

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