Offering feedback to people who aren’t located with you can be complicated. Should you send an email or get on the phone? Do you need to set up a zoom call, or will a quick shout-out on Slack get the job done? And why do they act like you’ve never told them something before when you said it just the other day?
Maybe we need to think backwards when we consider offering feedback remotely. Here’s what I mean.
Merely sending feedback, whether in writing, by voice, or in person, isn’t nearly enough. For feedback (positive or negative) to be useful, it needs to be received and transformed into action.
4 Steps for Useful Feedback
- It must be heard (or read). This is the first step—the message needs to be actually received in the brain of the recipient. Whether it’s in writing or verbal, if they cant’ read it, or it’s too noisy, or they don’t read it at all, it isn’t useful. And saying, “Well, I sent it” doesn’t mean much or help fix the problem.
- It must be understood. Sending the message isn’t the end of your responsibility—it’s the beginning. If the recipient doesn’t understand the message, it doesn’t matter whether or not you sent it, or if it was timely.
- It must be accepted. Of course, if they aren’t willing to listen, or they have a problem with you and are emotionally or psychologically unprepared to take the feedback, the feedback may as well not be offered at all. In fact, your message could actually damage the relationship.
- It must be useful and able to be turned into action. Especially in a coaching conversation, the goal of feedback is to turn it into behavior. Keep doing what works or do it better, improve what doesn’t work or never do that again. Unless people are willing to take the final step, you might feel good about delivering the message, but what did it really accomplish?
Now think about who you are delivering the feedback to. Why should they listen to you? How can you ensure the feedback is taken seriously and delivered in a way that preservers or enhances the relationship?
Now reverse the steps
- It must be useful and turned into action. Why are you offering the feedback? What precisely do you want to have happen? How much detail will you need to offer or what encouragement will help the other person take the action or change the behavior you’re suggesting?
- It must be accepted. Why should the other person listen to you or trust your feedback? Do you have an existing good relationship? Often people think you are offering feedback only because your’e the boss and they have to listen to you “or else.” Try phrasing it so they know it’s coming from a place of expertise; or better yet, let them know you’re doing this for positive reasons and that they can trust you. This has a big impact on how you introduce the subject.
- It must be understood. Think about the person you are talking to. We all have our own way of processing information and accepting input. Some people want you to cut right to the chase. Others need to have light conversation first. Many people need hard data and facts, especially if you’re going to be offering corrective suggestions. Plan your evidence and how you’ll present the facts to the other person.
- It must be heard. Only now are you ready to actually write, send, or speak your message. Now it’s focused on the end result, planned for the specific person, and phrased in a way that it can be effectively processed. Now, how should you send your message so it’s “heard”? An email might be efficient, but will they read it carefully and understand the nuances? If you call them out of the blue, will their head be able to focus properly on the conversation? Think carefully about how and when you’re going to offer the feedback. Remember it needs to be soon enough to be useful and relevant, but not so soon that the person isn’t able to process it. And how you send a message can be as important as when. A well-intentioned Slack message may not feel as personal as a conversation.
As with so much in life, good feedback should begin with the end in mind. Try planning backwards and see if you get better results.
Giving feedback is a major component of being a great remote teammate. Whether you’re in a leadership role or just “one of the team,” your feedback can be (and should be) a valuable contribution. Check out this great learning program to help you (or your team) grow into a more cohesive unit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.