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Giving Peer Feedback – Follow These Four Steps

Many of us are hesitant to give peer feedback. We worry that giving peer feedback will damage our relationships. We wonder if we have the right and if it’s our place to give peer feedback. And we are concerned about what the consequences of giving peer feedback will be.

Giving peer feedback isn’t so different from giving feedback to a friend or even a direct report. While you have an implicit ‘right’ to give a direct report feedback, doing so without building trust will ensure your feedback falls flat.

People respond to feedback in predictable ways. Most people get upset and defend themselves. This is normal and natural. Negative feedback conflicts with our desire to be thought well of, which all people (despite what they might say) want. People are more open and less defensive when they trust the source of the feedback and trust the sources’ motives. Follow these practices when giving peer feedback and your feedback will hopefully be well received.

Four practices for giving peer feedback:

  1. Think about why you want to give feedback. Really think about this. Is your desire to help the person change a behavior, or are you just being judgmental? If your intention isn’t to help someone replicate or change a behavior, say nothing. It’s not feedback you’re planning to give, it’s only your opinion you want to disseminate. One of my friends recently told me she felt my son’s name was waspy. Her comment wasn’t feedback as there was nothing I could do with the information. She simply gave me her judgmental opinion, which annoyed me.

Also consider why you want to give feedback. Do you simply want something done your way, or do you feel strongly that what the person is doing is having a negative impact on him/her or the organization? I worked with a business leader who red lined every document his staff created. He didn’t only change language that was wrong, he edited documents so they were written more akin to his writing style. This made his staff feel that they couldn’t do anything right and it wouldn’t matter what they produced, he’d revise even the most ‘perfect’ work. So they stopped trying. Evaluate your true motive. Just because something wasn’t done your way, doesn’t mean it wasn’t done well.

  1. Provided your motives are pure – you’re trying to make a difference for someone and his/her behavior is causing real challenges, it’s ok to speak up. Be sure you have the relationship to give peer feedback. Does the person know you have his/her back? If you speak up, will s/he trust it’s because you care about her or the organization, versus you just want to express your opinion and be right.
  1. Provided you are giving feedback to alter a behavior and you have the relationship to give feedback, it’s important that you ask for permission. A peer relationship is a lateral one. You each have the same ‘power’ (at least by title) in the organization, thus you don’t intrinsically have the ‘right’ to give feedback. You earn the right to give feedback by asking for permission and being willing to hear, “No, thank you.”

Asking for permission to give feedback might sound something like, “I’ve noticed a few things that I think are making ________ project harder than it has to be. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?”

Or, “Our weekly team meetings are tough. It’s a challenging group. I have a couple of ideas that might make the meetings easier to run. Would you be interested in talking about them?”

Or, “I have something I want to share with you. I feel awkward bringing this up because we’re peers and I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. But I care about you and want you to be successful. Would it be ok if I shared? Feel free, of course, to say no.”

  1. Lastly, don’t worry about giving peer feedback perfectly. You might follow our feedback formula to a tee. You might not. There is no one right way to give feedback. Speak from the heart. If you’re nervous to have a conversation, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to give a piece of feedback, say so. If you’re worried you won’t deliver the feedback well, say that. Saying how you really feel, being human and vulnerable builds trust, relationships, and credibility. People want to work with other real people, and real people have concerns. It’s ok to share them.

Giving peer feedback doesn’t have to be hard. Evaluate your motives. Ensure that what you plan to share is really feedback versus merely your opinion. Build trust, ask for permission, and speak from the heart. If you make a mess, you can always clean it up. Simply repeat the steps by saying something like, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I hope it’s ok I said something. I really want this project to go well for both you and the team. How could I have done that better for next time?”

peer feedback


Giving Feedback – Short and Frequent Feedback Is Best

If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magic words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.

The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.

There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.

Here are two key to make giving feedback easier:

Giving feedback strategy one:  Debrief everything.  Do a quick plus/delta on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?

I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make appropriate adjustments.

When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.

Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.

Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is on edge that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.

The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.

Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.

Giving feedback chapters

 


Managing Up – Say Less. Ask More.

managing upI’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.

No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.

Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.

Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:

Example One:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”

Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”

Example Two:

Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”

Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?

Example Three:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”

Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”

Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.

managing up


Hire and Fire for Attitude – Hiring Employees

“He does great work but is really difficult to work with.” “She produces great results at the expense of people.” I hear these complaints all the time. I feel like people need permission to hire and fire because of fit. So here it is, it’s ok to hire and fire people you don’t like working with. You can find people who do great work and are nice to work with, and you deserve to have both.

Results are often considered more important than the seemingly ‘softer stuff,’ how people got those results. And it doesn’t feel legitimate to want to get rid of an employee who is unpleasant to work with. We question ourselves thinking, “Maybe it’s not that bad? Perhaps I’m being too sensitive?” Or, “He does great work and is really reliable. Maybe I need to get over that he isn’t enjoyable to work with?” “It’s really hard to find and keep good, reliable, employees. I should just suck it up.”

What if employees who are unpleasant to work with or don’t practice your organizational values, aren’t good employees? People don’t want to work for a manager who is knowledgeable but mistreats people. And likewise, people don’t want to work with people who are super friendly and fun but do no work.

Some organizations evaluate employees both on the results they achieve and how they get to those results. That makes perfect sense.

Here are a six tips for hiring and firing employees for fit:

  1. Share your organizational values and behavior practices overtly when you interview candidates. Make it clear that people who don’t follow those practices won’t be happy or successful in the organization.
  2. Create an opportunity for candidates to do an extended practical interview, during which they can get a feel for what the culture is really like, outside of a formal sit-down interview. Then give candidates an opportunity to opt out of a job because they didn’t feel they fit in during the practical interview.
  3. Trust yourself. If you don’t like working with someone, there is a reason. Trust yourself and the reason.
  4. Set clear expectations around how employees, coworkers, vendors and customers are expected to behave when doing business with your organization. And be willing to let internal and external customers and suppliers go because they aren’t willing or able to follow your behavioral practices.
  5. Coach and give feedback for how people achieve results.
  6. Let employees go who don’t respond to feedback on interpersonal behaviors. Or let them know it’s time for them to look elsewhere.

Suffering at work is optional. You deserve to work with people you enjoy working with.

 

 


Giving Feedback: When to Say Nothing

Giving feedback

There are two purposes of giving feedback and only two purposes – to encourage people to either replicate or change a behavior. Providing input for any other reason doesn’t actually qualify as feedback and only serves to damage relationships.

Sometimes we provide input because we’re frustrated or simply don’t like someone. Consider the purpose of your comments before you make them. If your intentions are pure – to help someone replicate or alter a behavior, then ask for permission and give feedback once given the green light. If you’re ‘just talking’ to talk or vent, say nothing.

Here are five criteria for when to give feedback and when to say nothing:

Giving feedback criteria one: You have the relationship to do so. You’ve built trust. The recipient will know your motives are pure – to add value and help.

Giving feedback criteria two: You’ve asked for permission to give feedback. Even if your title grants you the permission to give feedback, asking if the person is open to the feedback can increase receptivity.

Giving feedback criteria three: You’re not upset. Wait to give feedback until you’re calm, but don’t wait longer than a week (max two).

Giving feedback criteria four:  Four months haven’t passed since the incident happened that you want to address. If the purpose of feedback is to encourage someone to replicate or change a behavior, the feedback needs to be given shortly after the event occurred. If you wait, the feedback is unhelpful and creates suspicion of other things you haven’t said.

Giving feedback criteria five:  You have a specific example to provide. No example, no feedback.  Feedback is supposed to be helpful. Telling someone they’re “doing a great job” is nice to hear but isn’t specific enough to be helpful or sincere. Likewise, telling someone their work isn’t “detailed oriented,” isn’t helpful without a specific example or two.

Evaluate your motives before you speak. Are you attempting to encourage someone to alter or replicate a behavior, or are you just sharing your unsolicited opinion? Give feedback for the right reasons, and retain your relationships.

How to Say Anything to Anyone


Give Employee Feedback Better and Be Heard

The normal, natural reaction to negative feedbemployee feedbackack is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.

Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.

Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.

While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.

Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.

Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.

Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.

Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.

Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.

Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.

Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.

Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.

Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.

Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.

You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.

employee feedback


Good Communication Starts with You

You’re talking with someone. He asks a question demonstrating he didn’t understand or hear what you said. You let out an exasperated silent or audible sigh and say, “Like I just said…” Saying “like I just said” or “as I just explained” tells the person that you good communicationthink he’s stupid or doesn’t listen. Both might be true, but saying so won’t help your relationship.

I consider myself reasonably smart. And for the most part, I listen. If I ask a question about something you said, consider the possibility that your explanation wasn’t clear and find a way to rephrase what you said the first time. Resist the temptation to tell me and the people you work with that we’re stupid.

Letting people save face is an art that takes patience, good communication, and the desire to have good relationships.

Here are five good communication tips that will strengthen you relationships versus alienate you from others:

Good communication tip number one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good. People are doing what they know to do.

Good communication tip number two: If someone doesn’t understand what you said, take responsibility for delivering unclear information. It’s easier to change your communication style than alter someone else’s style.

Good communication tip number three: Put your desire to have good business relationships above the desire to be right.

Good communication tip number four: Consider that you may not explain things in the way others learn. Vary your communication methods. Most people don’t learn solely by hearing. Make your explanations hands on and/or visual, and you’ll reach more people.

Good communication tip number five: Bring your patience to work.

It’s tempting to tell people where they’re lacking, but it won’t get you very far. Say what you need to in order to get your point across. And if people are unclear, know the easiest thing is to alter your message. Take the path of least resistance; let people save face.

good communication


When Giving Feedback, Less Is More

People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.giving feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.

If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.

You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.

Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:

Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?

Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.

Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?

Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.

Too much feedback sounds like nagging. Most people don’t want to work with their parents.

Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?

It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.

Here are three practices for giving feedback:

  1. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
  2. Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
  3. Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.

Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.

Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what he needs to do differently.

When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what she needs to do differently. Then stop talking and let her save face.

giving feedback


Defensive Behavior – Expect It vs. Avoid It

Most of us avoid giving negative feedback defensive behaviorbecause we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.

Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.

Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:

  1. Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
  2. Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
  3. Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
  4. When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
  5. Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.

What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:

Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”

Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, be assured that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay focused.”

Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else thinks I’m awesome.”

Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________.  Please do that.”

Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”

Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”

Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”

Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”

The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.

Defensive Behavior


Positive Feedback Examples – Be Specific

If you were on a diet and stepped on a scale that said, “Pretty good. Keep up the good work,” you’d return the scale, claiming it didn’t work. Likewise, if your GPS told you that it “seemed you were going the right way,” you’d probably use a different app, or heaven forbid, buy a map. Scales and GPS provide us with feedback, but vague feedback is unhelpful. It doesn’t tell us what to do more, better, or differently, which is the purpose of feedback.

Vague, positive feedback is also inauthentic, and inauthenticity smells. Hearing you did a great job is nice, but utterly unhelpful because the feedback recipient doesn’t know what he did well and what to replicate. If you want people to replicate a behavior, tell them precisely what they did well that you want them to do again.

Most feedback training focuses on giving negative feedback, because it’s so hard to do, but we’re not much better at giving positive feedback. Giving useful, positive feedback takes attention, observation, and timely communication. In short, it’s difficult.

positive feedback examples

I too find myself telling my team members, “You did a great job on…” I know vague words like these serve as a short pick-me-up. My team probably smiles and appreciates the recognition, but I also know I haven’t given them substantive direction of what actions I want them to replicate. Those of you who have participated in feedback training with me know that I call vague input Cap’n Crunch – all of the sweetness, with none of the nutrients.

To give effective, positive feedback, simply state one or more specific actions you want the person to replicate.

Here are a few examples of positive feedback:

Cap’n Crunch: “You did a great job on……”

Positive feedback example one: “You did a great job onboarding our new analyst. You outlined what he needed to do during his first 90-days to be successful. He now knows precisely what he has to do and won’t have to guess.”

Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for being so committed to our business.”

Positive feedback example two: “Thanks for calling in to today’s team meeting on a day you had off. Your participation helped us make a decision that would have taken much longer without your participation. I appreciate your commitment to our business.”

Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace.” This is not terrible, but not as effective as it could be.

Positive feedback example three: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace. I appreciate you tracking the new products our competitors are launching. It helps me know where we are ahead and behind.”

Don’t assume people know what they did well and that they will replicate positive behavior without receiving positive feedback. Watch people’s actions and tell them, shortly after they do something, what they did well. And watch those positive behaviors be repeated.

 

positive feedback examples


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