Feedback is how professionals thrive in their current roles and progress to the next stages of their careers. However, giving and receiving it usually isn’t anyone’s favorite task on their “to-do” list.
Remote work adds another layer of difficulty to these conversations, whether they happen through video, audio, or text.
Whether you’re a manager or individual contributor, contractor or employee, everyone could use pointers on how to give and receive feedback. Keep reading to learn actionable strategies for having productive conversations—virtually and in the office.
How to frame feedback conversations
Evaluating employees and colleagues in person is tricky enough. It’s even harder for remote conversations because you don’t have the setting you normally would to soften them. In person, managers can adapt their conversation to the context of the situation and use nonverbal cues. It’s difficult to do that remotely.
So, how can you navigate these conversations?
First, be mindful of negativity bias for the recipient—a tendency to focus more on criticism than positivity, according to Harvard Business Review. Stress also heightens the conversation, and COVID-19 has created a great deal of stress in the workplace. Therefore, to avoid negativity bias in these times, you’ll have to be strategic about how you communicate feedback.
One way to start the conversation is to begin with a question. For example, a team member gave a presentation that could’ve gone better. Chances are, they probably already know that they could have put more effort into it or planned it better. Ask them, “How do you think that presentation went?” Brainstorm with them how they could better handle the situation next time.
What if the employee isn’t aware of a flagging performance? You can use phrases like “I asked because I noticed/heard X.” This is a chance for them to vocalize ideas about how they can improve their performance.
Be honest and have empathy
In feedback conversations, emphasize their strengths before you deliver constructive suggestions. This doesn’t mean the well-known “compliment sandwich”—wedging improvement areas in between praise. This can confuse the recipient and undermine your point.
At times, managers worry that their constructive feedback sounds worse than it is to the recipient, and sugarcoat it. To avoid this, make sure you’re giving feedback regularly. “When the time comes to deliver a more emotionally charged message, you and your colleague have already established rapport and mutual trust,” says Fast Company. “Therefore, you’re more likely to be honest, even if it stings.”
When you deliver constructive suggestions, be direct. Mollifying your feedback won’t help your employees improve or achieve their potential, and it could detract from company goals.
Relate your conversation to the team and company goals. For example, “I noticed we’re not getting as much engagement on our emails as we did previously. We have to hit Target X by quarter’s end. What do you think is standing in the way?” You’ll learn the employee’s struggles and figure out how to remove any blockers.
Give straightforward feedback, but don’t forget to have compassion.
After all, no professional is perfect, and we’re in trying times. Employees are dealing with an onslaught of new challenges, from figuring out remote work, factoring childcare, and being isolated.
The last thing you want is for your employees to feel demoralized. You want your employees to be happy and dedicated and feel like they can approach you. Remind them you’re there to help. The happier and more engaged your employees are, the more productive they will be, and the better your company will perform.
How to give written feedback
Although written feedback doesn’t rely on conversational and nonverbal cues, you still need a thoughtful approach. If the deliverable is in writing as a Word document or presentation, read it in its entirety a couple of times for context.
Make sure your comments are specific and actionable. Your employee should learn from your suggestions and come up with their own answers when possible.
Give specific, sincere praise when appropriate—there’s no need to pile on praise for the sake of it. Asking questions will also help the employee learn and add their perspective. For example, “How can we say this in a way that reflects our brand values?”
What about both written and verbal feedback?
Written comments can reinforce points made during video conversations, or video comments can give valuable context to written comments. With written feedback, encourage them to set up a call or meeting for further explanation if they still have questions.
How to receive feedback
Remember that feedback is information, not criticism. NPR suggests an approach for processing it called SIFT.
Source: Is the person giving it someone whose opinion you value or someone whom you don’t have much information about?
Impact: Assess the scale of the comments. Does this require a major change, or is it as small as changing an e-mail subject line?
Frequency: Note how often you’re hearing this specific feedback. Is it something that you’re hearing for the first time, or has the person telling you mentioned it more than once?
Trends: Remember where you’re hearing this information over time. Is it from one specific department or another executive? Once you pinpoint a source over time, figure out how you’re going to approach any problems.
When you receive feedback, ask for time to review or digest the information. Follow up with questions so you can be aligned, and demonstrate how you’ve applied it. Conclude conversations by stating your key takeaways so that everyone agrees about expectations and how to move forward.
Note that it’s easier for a remote employee to finish a conversation prematurely by simply closing a window. If you feel like your conversation didn’t resonate the way they could have, follow up with an email that reminds them of the takeaways.
The key to better relationships and career growth
Giving and receiving feedback may seem daunting, and even more so virtually. Keep in mind that the goal is to advance the company, and it’s never personal.
Who knows? Those one or two pieces of feedback could close the gap between being a great employee and an exceptional one.