Giving Feedback When Inappropriate Behavior Occurs

For those of you who are trainees at the NIH, the OD Anti-Harassment Blog is a great resource to check out.  One post in particular “How to Give Feedback When Inappropriate Behavior Occurs” is well worth a full read, although we try to summarize the main points below:

The first thing to remember is that your goal should be to change the undesired behavior not to escalate the dispute. Here are six steps to consider when trying to address inappropriate behavior.


You will need to assess where the behavior falls on the Continuum of Conduct. This continuum ranges from general conflict (workplace disagreements, communication issues) to policy breach (egregious and/or pattern of disrespectful and inappropriate conduct) to unlawful (any conduct of a sexual nature, bullying, harassment/hostile work environment) to criminal (property damage and/or physical violence).  You must report policy breach, unlawful, and criminal behavior to the Civil Program or the NIH Police. If your issue falls under general conflict, you can consult EAP or the Ombudsman at NIH and proceed to Step Two.

2. Write it down
Write out what you see as the issue using as many “I” statements as possible. An example would be “I feel that I am often blamed for the team’s mistakes.” Be as specific as you can about the behavior in the hopes that the individual will better understand the feedback.

3. Practice
Once you’ve drafted what you’d like to say, practice it out loud with a friend, counselor, or even EAP of the Ombudsman can help assist with this preparation.

4. Choose the right setting/venue

You should attempt to give the feedback to the individual directly and in private. Private doesn’t have to mean alone if you are worried. If meeting in-person, you can grab coffee at a café where others are around but your conversation will be mostly private. If meeting online, it is better to have a phone/video call versus an email/text so that tone can be clear.

5. Listen
Have an open mind and be willing to hear the individual’s response to your feedback.

6. Reset
Propose a resolution to help “reset” the relationship. An If/then statement might help. For example, “If we find ourselves in another situation like this, then we should…” Thank the person for being willing to listen to you and receive your feedback while expressing how difficult it may have been for you to do this.

Two resources you should take advantage of while at the NIH are the Employee Assistance Program and the Ombudsman. Both can help with mediation and can serve as a resource for difficult work-place situations.

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