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The women behind me whispered intensely. But their volume increased as the conference hall filled up. It became impossible to ignore them.

“I have to say – I just don’t get it. I got along great with my last manager. In fact, he constantly gave me more responsibility.”

“My new manager? Well…he’s hard to describe. He has a string of subtle put-downs. The guys are usually shouting over each other in our staff meetings, but he never tells them to let others speak more. He’s recognizes their ideas, yet he doesn’t want to follow up on my suggestions. After last week’s meeting, he made some off-handed comment about my big personality.”

“He’s my manager…he should be for me!” She stopped for a moment.

In a full voice, she announced, “I guess I just don’t trust the feedback.”

There are a lot of lessons in the story, but let’s focus on the most important one. Obviously the woman had plenty of things to be irritated about – the snide remarks from her insecure manager, being overlooked in a meeting, or the affirming words that weren’t said. His comments may have been accurate, but his delivery was so poor that she couldn’t trust what he said.

In the June series, The F Word, we’ve been talking about giving and receiving feedback. If you’re at your first big job after college, you may have never given formal feedback. If you’ve been in your career for a while, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of productive guidance and harsh messages.

Wherever you are in your career path, do you know how to give influential, trustworthy feedback? Before you respond, stop to ask yourself three questions. (And by the way, these questions work in all kinds of relationships.)

Am I talking about the work, or something else? In “Lean In”, a manager famously did more digging when a woman on his staff received negative feedback. In comparing her behavior against others, the feedback giver admitted that they unintentionally treated men and women differently.

Avoid the temptation to replay every interaction over the past year. Keep your comments on topic and neutral.

How can I focus on desired outcomes? In the conversation above, it was clear that the woman’s direct, outspoken style that previously worked so well irritated her new boss.

Imagine if he had pointed out the greater good by saying, “We want everyone attending to have a vote before we lock the strategy. When we meet with the VP next week, we must speak with one voice.”

That’s a world of difference compared to, “Well you had plenty to say…again!”

What would I like instead? Ask yourself, “what behaviors would I like to see instead?” This is the moment for baby step progress, not long-winded perfection. Your best suggestions will be reasonable, kind, actionable, and in a one-screen mail.

This week, give people feedback in a way that they don’t need to be fearful. Everyone wants to work for and with people who want them to flourish, not people invested in criticizing them. Are you going to be the most trustworthy voice in the room?