Brighid Gannon is co-founder of Lavender and an award-winning nurse entrepreneur known for building innovative healthcare businesses.
Giving peer-to-peer feedback can be one of the trickiest conversations in the workplace. Usually less frequent and less structured than manager-to-employee reviews, these discussions can end up being awkward and unproductive unless thoughtfully planned.
Peer-to-peer feedback has increased in recent years, in part due to 360-degree review programs where an individual receives a full sphere of assessment from managers, direct reports and peers. But sometimes other situations pop up, and giving constructive criticism to a colleague is necessary. Regardless of why the feedback is needed, make sure you’re prepared so the conversation goes as smoothly and professionally as possible.
Professionals are used to getting feedback from their managers, but might not be as open to receiving criticism from a peer. Figuring out the best way to approach and present your feedback is important. If someone feels attacked or gets defensive right off the bat, it’s difficult to salvage the discussion. While some people like direct feedback, others might respond better to a more gentle approach. If you’re unsure, ask! They’ll appreciate the effort you’re making for a truly constructive conversation.
Here are additional ways to ensure your peer-to-peer conversation is positive and productive.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I simply can’t state this enough. Be well-versed on the point(s) you want to address in the meeting, and have solid examples and clear takeaways. Make sure you know what you want to get out of the conversation－it will help you stay focused.
2. Ask for permission. This isn’t obvious, which is why I think it’s so important. Make sure they’re open to the feedback by literally asking, “Are you open to feedback? I have some thoughts I’d like to share.” Doing this prepares them for the discussion and gives them the professional courtesy of not being blindsided.
3. Use passive voice. I could also call this one: Don’t use any “you” statements. Removing the person from the sentence highlights the action of the person instead. Instead of “You didn’t update the reports, and we missed the deadline,” you could try, “The reports weren’t updated, and the deadline was missed.” This tactic is particularly helpful for colleagues who might get defensive during the conversation.
4. Be respectful. Every conversation in the workplace should be respectful, but during a delicate conversation like this, it’s even more important. This is not the time to attack or insult. Be reverent of the individual’s professional accomplishments, and remember that this occasion is an opportunity for you both to grow professionally.
5. Be clear and specific. This sounds obvious, but it’s tempting to cushion the feedback so as not to upset the person. In fact, the clearer you are, the easier it is for the person you’re speaking with to understand your point of view and address it head on.
6. Show empathy. It’s common for people to get embarrassed or uncomfortable when receiving criticism. Let your colleague know you understand this might be awkward but you’re coming from a place of kindness and good intent. Remember though, this isn’t about you. Saying things like, “This is as hard for me as it is for you,” won’t resonate and could impede the conversation.
7. Make sure it’s a two-sided conversation. Remember this is a dialogue, not a monologue. And go into the conversation with an open mind. It’s likely they have a reason for their actions or behavior, and in some cases, it might be something you didn’t know. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions.
Peer feedback doesn’t have to be scary or problematic. Treating your colleagues with the kindness and respect they deserve while maintaining an empathetic and open mind will help your feedback conversations go amiably and productively.