6 Keys to Constructive Colleague Feedback

Outside of a formal performance evaluation setting, there are often occasions when co-workers need to share feedback with one another.   For example, if a group has collaborated on a presentation, it would be important for them to assess its success and whether or not aspects could be enhanced.  If a member is holding the team back, how can his/her contributions be improved?

1. Start with positives.  Showing appreciation for the things that went well helps folks to be receptive to tweaking what did not.  Praise the creativity of an approach, even if you later need to address how the execution faltered.  If possible, identify 3 positives for every negative.  Creating a safe atmosphere for building confidence and skills can go a long way to minimizing defensiveness.

2. Focus on one issue at a time and limit the number of negative issues discussed per evaluation session.  Dealing with many problem actions at once is overwhelming.  Consider using a flipchart or whiteboard.    First list, but don't discuss, every positive that the group can suggest.  Then list, but don't discuss, those areas which need improvement.  Identify key issues to be dealt with at this particular meeting and those to be saved for a later time.

3. Be specific about areas which need improvement.  Focus on behaviors, actions, statements and outcomes rather than personality.  For example, instead of generalizing that "the audience didn't relate well to your segment of the talk", it would be more productive to note that "it would have helped if you spoke more loudly and did not read directly from the PowerPoint slides".   

4. Talk about how you saw the impact of actions.  For example, "when the Q&A session was cut short, I noticed that some of the audience members expressed frustration."  "The large number of items on slide #4 distracted me from also listening to what you were saying."

5. Ask for the perspective of the person who "dropped the ball".  You may be surprised to learn that they already know what went wrong but have been embarrassed to talk about it and ask for help for the future.   Listen calmly, even if your co-worker seems to be refuting the feedback.  During the discussion, you can learn valuable information about why he/she chose a course of action and perhaps help them to rethink their approach.  Maya Angelou has been quoted, "when you know better, you do better".

6. Collaborate on a solution.   To be critical and then leave it up to a co-worker to fix the situation alone is not supportive.  Assuming that your solution is the only and best one is also rarely a productive approach.   Work together with colleagues to come up with a plan that you can all get behind.   Use the flipchart or whiteboard to record options.   Make copies of the meeting information for all participants.  It is natural for some content to be forgotten in a situation that involves criticism, no matter how constructive or well-intentioned.