“Telling it like it is” – giving effective feedback in writing

A few weeks ago I read an article about a new workplace trend hot from the States.  No…nothing to do with the new President, but rather a trend for “radical candour” that’s sweeping Silicon Valley – otherwise known as “challenging directly” while still “showing you care”.  

The unsuspecting subjects for your caringly challenging feedback are your work colleagues, and as a former HR Manager the article struck fear into my heart, having often been at the sticky end of many a person’s blustering attempts to tell their colleagues what they really think, Jeremy Kyle Show “telling-it-like-it-is” style.

Tellingly, the examples given in the article I read were about high-flying corporate names we know, such as Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame, who can get away with telling an employee that she sounds stupid in meetings due to saying “um” a lot.  Derek in IT, however, would more likely have been hauled straight in for a disciplinary meeting.

So…if you decide you need to give somebody your personal feedback, writing it down first is a great start.  There’s something about seeing your words baldly written that can make you think about how they might be received, and whether or not it’s a good idea to share them at all (there’s a reason for writing all those “letters never sent” to loved ones!)  Think about your relationship with the person you’re about to share your thoughts with…would you appreciate theirs, if the situation was reversed?  How would you like to be told about something negative?

Starting your feedback with something positive is a good approach, no matter how small.  Keep emotion out of your message, use facts and be direct and honest, but always give reasons for your feedback so the receiver isn’t left reeling with no idea how to address what you’ve said.  For example, Sheryl Sandberg didn’t just tell her employee she sounded stupid, she explained why.

After writing your message down, consider whether you should send it as an e-mail rather than speaking directly to your colleague – some people (including me!) prefer this approach as it gives them time to absorb the feedback and decide how to respond.  If you’re sending a written message, mention that you’d be very happy to have a chat and a coffee if and when they’re ready. 

And good luck!

If you have any feedback for me, or you’d like to discuss anything wordy over coffee…please get in touch.