Avoid Switch-Tracking When Given Feedback

Feedback abounds—bosses, colleagues, customers, family and friends all have “suggestions” for our performance, parenting, or appearance. Feedback is essential for healthy relationships and professional development, but we dread it and often dismiss it. Most likely it is because receiving feedback sits at the junction of two conflicting human desires: We do want to learn and grow. And we also want to be accepted just as we are right now. Learning how to address this tension without switching-tracks is important.


When a conversation starts off on one track, about one topic, and the other person switches it to a different track and different topic, recognize it to stop switch tracking.

What is Avoid Switch-Tracking When Given Feedback?

Effective conflict management is one of the most important skills we can acquire which was confirmed in a 2013 Stanford University/The Miles Group of senior executives that noted “conflict management skills” as the highest area of concern. Even when we are at the very top of the organizational food chain, this issue still plagues us. So, how do we handle conflict better? One important ingredient of effective conflict management is how we respond to feedback.

Consider the following feedback exchange between a husband and wife. The wife starts by telling her husband that when he is with her family, he seems distant and cold. He responds to this feedback by stating that he was the one who organized the latest family gathering and who mows the lawn for her parents.

This conversation, called switch-tracking, is about two people simultaneously giving each other feedback, but neither one of them is receiving the feedback the other is providing. There are two feedback givers and no feedback receivers.

How does Avoid Switch-Tracking When Given Feedback improve employee engagement and culture?

Conflict is a constant and challenging part of our personal and professional lives, and giving feedback is the main solution. Employees want the opportunity to give input and feel connected to the business, but for a variety of reasons, they don't provide it. It could be due to the inability to give feedback effectively. More likely, it is due to the receiver of feedback not listening and staying on track. Rather, another topic is introduced into the conversation because of an unfortunately common human tendency to respond to critical feedback by providing critical feedback of our own. This is frustrating. To enhance employee engagement, you need to listen when feedback is given, and in a non-threatening manner.

What are the benefits?

  1. Enhanced employee relations

  2. Increased job satisfaction

  3. Greater interpersonal enlightenment

  4. Better managing of conflict

  5. Improved employee morale

How do you conduct Avoid Switch-Tracking When Given Feedback in the workplace?

Collecting employee feedback is no longer enough. If companies want to optimize employee engagement, they must encourage employees to provide feedback and support managers to take action on it. Practice. Practice. Practice. Avoid responding to a colleague’s feedback by giving them feedback of your own. You may not even be aware that you are doing it.


Practice receiving feedback without giving feedback

  1. When receiving feedback, be prepared to listen. If a subordinate says: ‘You’ve been scheduling way too many meetings lately!’ and you retort, “You are constantly late for meetings”, you are responding to feedback by giving feedback. The best thing to do is to talk about the first topic and ask for examples of how many meetings are too many. Resist the temptation to provide feedback. Just listen and hear what is being said.

  2. In order to better understand the feedback being given to you, you will need to talk about it more. Ask questions and probe for more information.

  3. Once the giver of the feedback is done. Thank the person.

  4. Only at that time can you say that you have feedback you would like to give to the other person as well, which is another and equally important conversation to have. The mistake that we make is trying to have both conversations at once. When we do it that way, both people are angry and frustrated because they feel the other person is not listening to them. We call this a ‘switch-track’ conversation because the conversation is starting off on one track, about one topic, and the other person switches it to a different track and different topic.

  5. After the encounter, spend some time alone and think about whether you switched-tracks. Doing so can compromise your ability to learn and grow while also damaging important relationships with your team.

Reference Material

How to learn from feedback with curiosity and grace.

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