Feedback is an essential part of any workplace, letting employees review their own performance, learn how others feel about their work, and make changes to reduce chances of possible friction. However, giving another employee feedback can be a daunting prospect. You may fear a backlash if you speak negatively about someone else’s work, or that they will become defensive if you try to advise them how to work differently.
It’s important to remember that, so long as you approach giving feedback in a balanced and constructive way, you’ll be able to diplomatically comment on someone else’s work. By remembering the following tips, you can give both critical and supportive feedback for your co-workers:
Consider the Context
Poor performance is not always indicative of poor effort. Added circumstances, whether they are personal or professional, can alter a situation that may appear to demand instant feedback. If you’re considering giving feedback on someone else’s performance, it may be best waiting a day or two to see if any behaviour you would critique is an anomaly.
It’s also key to consider who you should deliver your feedback to. For casual improvement tips or appreciation, a quick email or conversation will do. However, if a co-worker demands serious commendation, or you’re concerned about something they’ve done, your feedback may be better suited for a manager or team leader. By elevating your feedback through the right channels, you can ensure that people will receive the recognition or help that they deserve.
Co-workers will often ask for feedback when larger projects are completed, or ahead of a more formal review of their performance with their managers. However, these moments can be few and far between, especially when you consider that you may work with some colleagues every day. While you should certainly try to provide feedback when a co-worker asks for it, you shouldn’t always wait for them to come to you either.
Try advising them on their work during smaller projects too. Even if it’s just to say they did a small job particularly well, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge their hard work. Showing that you recognise when they perform well means a colleague will feel more comfortable asking for advice and feedback when they think something could have gone better.
Start with a Positive
Feedback needs to be balanced in order to be delivered effectively. This means being supportive when they excel and solution-oriented when they have difficulties. If you’re delivering feedback that has some constructive criticism in it, start by highlighting some positive aspects first.
This can be an employee’s attitude, their communication, or their creative thinking skills. It’s important to recognise the positive aspects of anyone’s efforts to make them feel comfortable and more open to criticism.
Imagine you’re receiving feedback on a project you know didn’t go well. You may be expecting ways to improve your performance, but you still want what you did right to be recognised. Begin with a positive and you won’t have to worry about appearing abrasive when talking about someone else’s work.
Clarity is imperative in all criticism. When something goes wrong, you want to know both what it was and why it went wrong so you can avoid it happening again. Likewise, when something works well, you want to know understand how it happened so that you can reproduce the results in the future. If you’re commenting on a specific piece of work, keep notes you can refer to, or screenshots of what you are critiquing.
Try to avoid generalisations and giving vague advice. Rather than saying a colleague should ‘be more confident’, consider when this confidence could be best shown. Perhaps they should focus on being more confident with their ideas in brainstorms, or when presenting said ideas to clients. Clearly showing what you’re speaking about lends authority to your feedback, and shows that you’ve carefully considered someone else’s work, rather than rushing to identify the problems in it.
Follow Up with Them
Asking for feedback is one thing, but putting it into practice is a different matter. It’s not uncommon for even the most well-meaning employee to take time adopting constructive advice when changing how they work. Set a reminder to spend some time following up with the co-worker you’re helping. See if they’ve taken up the advice that you’ve given them. If they haven’t, it might be that they’re unable to work the same way you do.
It’s a game of give and take. Many people approach problems differently and, in the process, inadvertently create situations that you may see as problematic. Further discussion means you can work together to find a middle ground that benefits both you. By doing this, you won’t feel too imposing and they won’t feel pressured to make changes that go against the way they work.
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a colleague? How did it make you feel? Let us know on Twitter at @viking_chat.