Remote Work

How To Give Negative Feedback To Your Remote Colleagues

April 11, 2022
5 Min

Giving negative feedback to coworkers can feel hard. We all have feelings, and when our feelings get hurt, it can be difficult for us to be reasonable about the situation.

But, delivering negative feedback is not only necessary—it's a way for you and your coworkers to grow. When you receive negative feedback, it might feel like a personal attack on you as an individual, but the truth is that most negative feedback actually has nothing to do with who you are as a person; it's simply a response to something you did or didn't do in the workplace.

Let’s take a better look at some tips that will help you appropriately give negative feedback to your remote colleagues.

Start With Positive Feedback

Begin with positive feedback and then segue to the negative. It can be jarring to hear a manager or co-worker launch into an immediate critique of an employee's work. It's disrespectful and makes it hard for the person receiving the feedback to absorb what you're saying. Instead, start with some positive feedback, which enables you to build rapport before giving any negative feedback. Here are some examples of successful segues:

  • “I've noticed that your colleagues appreciate working with you on collaborative projects because you're a good listener and consistently contribute helpful ideas. This project has gone well so far, but I think we could make it even better if we try X."
  • "I really like how you used your own experience in this section. Your personal touch is one of your best qualities as a writer because it helps readers connect to the content on an emotional level. That said, I think we could take things a step further by including more specific details from your experience."
  • "It was smart for you to focus on these particular aspects of this character's personality in this scene because their impact was significant for the rest of the movie. However, I also think it would be valuable if we included a few sentences about how their decisions affected other characters in that same scene."

Use Facts, Not Feelings

When giving negative feedback, it's important to stay focused on the facts. When you try to interject your own emotions into a conversation with a friend or colleague, you can make it difficult for them to hear what you're saying, and they may only be able to focus on how they feel about the situation.

When giving feedback, tell them which specific behaviors are making their working relationship with others difficult. For example, instead of saying "I don't like that you always interrupt me when I'm speaking," say "I feel frustrated when we talk because every time I start talking, you interrupt me." By changing the first sentence into the second sentence, your colleague will be able to better understand your problem and hopefully improve their behavior in future conversations.

Focus On Behaviors And Results, Not Personality Traits

When giving critical feedback to a remote colleague, keep your focus on behaviors and results, not on personality traits. The latter can be interpreted as attacks; the former is more objective and easier to take in stride.

It's okay to say "This project was supposed to be delivered yesterday, but it still isn't ready." But it's not okay to say "You're unreliable!"

Instead of saying “You’ve been lazy lately and need to work harder,” you could say, "I've noticed you haven't been able to meet deadlines recently, are you doing okay?”

Have specific examples ready, but DON’T make it a laundry list of complaints.

Prioritize What You Want To Cover

Prioritize what you want to cover. It's more important to address the most important issues first than to try and cover every single thing at once. If you don't address them first, it may not be possible to address them at all, because your colleague might lose focus or feel overwhelmed by feeling they have too much feedback coming in at one time.

Keep The Focus On The Other Person's Behavior, Not On Their Motives Or Intentions

When giving negative feedback, never assume you know someone else’s intentions. This is called a fundamental attribution error: a tendency to believe that someone's behavior is rooted in their inner character, rather than a result of the situation they were in.

For example, if we started with an observation like "I noticed that you didn't respond when I told you about this important meeting," rather than assuming that they don't care about their career development, we would be making a situational attribution (i.e., attributing their behavior to the environment). Just because someone doesn't respond doesn't mean they don't care; they might have actually just not heard what you said!

A good rule of thumb is to focus on what you observed and what you want to happen next—instead of trying to guess at why something occurred in the first place. For example: "I noticed that I only got feedback from two out of three reviewers on our latest proposal draft before it went out for client review. What do you think about creating a new system where you each agree to submit your comments by 3pm on Wednesdays?"

Be Honest About How The Other Person's Actions Are Affecting You, But Keep Your Tone Professional And Polite

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but being honest and direct is actually an empathetic way to deliver criticism. It shows the person you are talking to that you respect them enough not to sugar coat things, and as well it shows that you trust they will be able to hear your message without getting defensive or hurt.

What you should avoid when delivering negative feedback is being harsh or accusatory in your tone. When communicating with your remote colleagues, remember that this is a person on the other side of the screen and not a robot. Even though it can be easy to forget sometimes since everyone on your team has been cooped up inside for so long, you are still talking to another human with emotions and thoughts just like yourself!

Different Means of Remote Communication

You can deliver negative feedback to your remote colleagues in the same way you might deliver it to your non-remote colleagues, like via phone call or video chat. If you want to be extra careful and ensure that you're not coming off as too harsh, email is also an option. Emails can be extra effective if you know you are emotional about a certain issue and want to ensure you are coming off as objective and unemotional. Tone however is often misconstrued in emails so be sure to add tonal cues throughout your writing.

Say it like you mean it.

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