How Many F*s to Give in Constructive Discussion?

3 min read
March 5, 2018

In one of our previous articles, we cracked the secrets of having efficient meetings. Yet, the necessity of discussing something may pop up even if you hadn’t booked a meeting room in advance. Ieva Vaitkeviciute from Clanbeat shares three F’s to deal with any discussion at any time.

The other day, I had a great discussion with an HR professional from one of the fast growing IT companies in the Netherlands. We were mostly analysing their current employee onboarding processes but stopped to discuss one of the issues she was facing at the time. Recently, she had to mediate an ongoing conflict that was starting to affect other employees at her workplace. She asked me for some guidelines she could take to her co-workers. The problem she witnessed came down to lack of knowledge in giving constructive feedback. Often people simply don’t know how to do it.

Negative feedback can be difficult for both sides. However, it is extremely important to address critical matters and not to avoid them. I usually suggest to remain constructive, objective and considerate – use concrete facts, avoid placing blame and show support by suggesting how to improve, together.

A few years ago, I heard about the golden rule of “3 F’s to be followed” while discussing difficult topics. I’m very glad to pass them on.

1st F – FACT

Fact is a circumstance that both sides agree upon, and should be discussed before the conversation goes any further.

For example: “This morning you mentioned that I was always late,” is a fact as long as both sides agree that it was said and it is correctly cited. Including specific examples is the fastest way to constructive results. It often reveals an honest case of miscommunication – what was understood, was not, in fact, what the person intended to say.

I suggest using phrases like “Correct me if I’m wrong” to stay on the same page. Stop and check your facts, before moving the discussion to the part that includes feelings.


A feeling is a subjective state, a personal conclusion inspired by a fact. While both sides can agree on a fact, a feeling is something very personal. When giving and receiving feedback, it’s important to remain aware of the distinction.

By starting the blame-game or losing empathy, it’s almost impossible to reach to constructive results.

Let’s say you now feel insecure or even insulted about the phrase “You are always late!”. When addressing the incident during feedback, don’t hook it to blaming phrases like “you made me feel…” or “that made me feel…”.

When the receiver of feedback feels attacked, they might turn into fight-or-flight mode for self-defence. By starting the blame-game or losing empathy, it’s almost impossible to reach to constructive results.

To successfully address the matter, only refer to the feeling that appeared – “I felt insulted and insecure about coming off as a person who can’t be relied on”.

Notice how this example is mentioning your personal problem with the original statement, yet doesn’t place direct blame on anyone.

Talking about feelings can be uncomfortable or maybe even seem unnecessary, but when unaddressed, they can paralyze one’s productivity, self-esteem, and be especially destructive on relationships.

3rd F – FUTURE

Future refers to the actionable part of feedback – what could be improved.

As long as there is trust and a mutual wish to grow, there is space for these discussions.

For example, it might be phrased as, “Perhaps next time you could use concrete dates of when I was late, instead of generalizing with the word always? or “Perhaps next time you could say things like this in private?”.

It’s very rewarding to finish a difficult conversation with an action plan both sides feel happy with. If the feedback focuses on specific occurrences and incidents, instead of the person, it’s possible to define problems and take concrete steps towards improvement.

As long as there is trust and a mutual wish to grow, there is space for these discussions.

Following the 3 steps of “fact, feeling, future”, the discussions for better understanding and teamwork don’t have to be all that difficult.

But remember, there are no instant fixes. The tone, intent and attitude matter a lot when it comes to negative feedback – never give feedback with a mindset of putting someone down.

If the receiver of feedback feels more insecure after your session, you’ve taken a wrong turn and they’ll likely be more defensive about any feedback you want to share or receive in the future.

Genuine care for the well-being of your partner is the foundation of any strong partnership.

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