How to give feedback when working remotely
Whether you are a manager, a subject matter expert, a client or a colleague you know that feedback is necessary and good for you and for the others. But how to give feedback?
When working remotely, because we do not have full visual contact with the people with whom we are interacting (we cannot perceive the unconscious body language of the other, such as restlessness, posture, and gestures)it is far more difficult to give or fully and correctly interpret feedback. Lack of direct, real life contact means that lots of cues are missed (or go unnoticed) or are simply misinterpreted.
Here are a couple of tips than can make giving feedback a lot easier when working remotely:
Choose the right channel
Nobody likes to wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night with an Inbox full of negative emails. Think twice before sending a message and make sure to choose the right channel: it is a proven fact that positive written feedback increases a team’s motivation and productivity whereas for negative feedback it is recomended that you rather use 1:1 calls.
Is it kind, is it useful, is it really necessary? If you cannot answer YES to at least one of these questions or if the „errors” you detected and want to bring forward do not have a major impact in the bigger picture, then what you probably have in mind is not actually constructive feedback but a personal way to lay off steam or a desire to impose you own view on things.
Focus on the present
Sometimes, when somebody asks for feedback we jump at the opportunity but without evaluating the consequnces. Consider that sometimes, a simple opinion thrown out at the wrong moment can do more harm than good.
Recently, one of my colleagues asked for my feedback on a specific topic. Because it’s been a long time since we’ve worked together, I thought it wiser to refrain from giving any feedback instead of rushing to offer an opinion based on a past experience. If I don’t have anything really important to say or if I don’t know the entire context of a situation then I prefer to keep silent. Nobody likes being stuck with a tag on their forhead forever; people change, evolve.
It may be tempting to choose the „easy way” and altogether remove feedback from your to do list and instead simply toss out things like „I don’t like it/I’m not overwhelmed/I don’t get it/I can’t/I want something else but don’t know what that is/Make it so that I like it”
Of course you can do that, it’s quick and it transfers responsibility from you to the other person. But the effects of that action will come back to haunt you. The other person will come back with a long list of questions for you to answer, a task that you might have avoided altogether had you invested more time and attention into giving constructive feedback in the first place.
How to do it
From an online course I took a while ago I took home a formula – „nonviolent request” and ever since I try to apply it in every situation. I like it because it’s specific and it shows empathy.
It goes something like this:
When you do this … (insert comment)
I feel as if … (insert feeling)
I need to … (insert need)
Could you please… ? (insert request)
For example, let’s imagine that someone feels overwhelmed by all the tasks they need to complete and they would like to communicate that to their manager. They could say something like: „There are too many things coming my way and I can’t do them all!”
Or, they could rephrase their feedback using the following structure:
When a lot of unexpected tasks come up (comment)
I feel overwhelmed (feeling)
I need to know which is the order in which I should complete my tasks (need)
Could you please help me prioritize these taks?(request)
Another method of giving feedback, one that I learned from one of my managers while I was working in the Netherlands some time ago, is the sandwhich feedback: positive – constructive negative – positive. Let’s focus on a specific example, let’s image that an article that one of my colleagues has just finished and delivered contains errors.
You might say „Take another look at that article, it’s full of errors” or „It looks like today Romanian grammar is you ennemy”.
Or you might use the sandwich feedback and say:
„Thank you for sending me the article so soon, I really appreciate the speed of your execution. (posivive start) Still, I spotted some gramatical errors such as instances of lack of agrement and some missing diacritics, could you please read it again carefully and correct it? While it is importat that we publish this article as soon as possible it is equally important that we make sure it is correctly written. (negative but constructive) Taking into account that you had a very tight deadline for such an ample material, overall you did a great job!” (positive end)”
„Give the feedback you would like to receive” is the general principle that guides me. At the same time, I have to admit that when giving feedback I take into account not only the level of seniority of the person to whom I’m giving it but also that person’s type of personality.
What’s you take on feedback and how would you like to offer and receive it?