Giving Constructive Feedback in a Virtual World

Giving Constructive Feedback in a Virtual World

At Change Positive, we teach feedback at its best—five key elements:

  1. Trusting the intention of the person giving it
  2. Bringing context to the feedback
  3. Clearly stating what to-do vs not do
  4. Making it timely
  5. Providing social support going forward

So, what is feedback at its best in a virtual world?

First, let's acknowledge how so much is different today, and into the future.

Isolated yet Intimate

We're all working from different places in different spaces via video and for many bringing our co-workers into our homes / intimate spaces for the first time ever. Our kids and pets are roaming about and our breakfast dishes may even be visible in the background. Our ability to have social awareness to recognize and empathize with each other's environment is more important than ever. We see our co-workers in a new setting; one we rarely caught a glimpse of before. Remember to be patient, compassionate and kind as we're all impacted in some big or small way by this.

Connected + Disconnected

We're relying on video to bridge a feeling of connection yet for many we are still feeling quite disconnected. We infrequently, if at all, share space and time with family, friends, and our co-workers. This leaves us wanting more when it comes to true connection. In the workplace, so much of our connection was through passing in the hall, a doorway conversation, going to lunch together, or a glance across a table at a meeting. Now, our connections are scheduled and limited with a start and end. So, the ability to create more meaningful connection through dialogue and curate the right virtual experience for that connection is essential. This may mean more fun ways to 'check-in,' activities on-screen to create a sense of connection, or efforts to create impromptu & brief touchpoints.

Communicating (kind of)

Eye contact, body language, gestures, and mimicry are part of our personal space and connection. However, in a virtual world, we never really make eye contact as we look at our screens while the camera catches our face from a different position. In person, when we talk at the same time, we're still able to track with each other and converse. Electronically, when we speak at the same time it's like hitting a word wall. So, we stop awkwardly saying, "Oh, you go ahead" and it becomes a series of statements, one person after the next, rather than a flow of voices streaming together at the same time.

The Only Certainty is Uncertainty

We still don't have all the answers for what the new normal will truly look like, or how much of the old normal will return. Will we be virtual? 3 days a week? "Moments that matter?" Or, some other catchy description? And, we don't have a good sense of timing for any of these questions. That said, it's important to know that "uncertainty" causes our brain to trigger a fight or flight response. So being able to name and acknowledge the uncertainly you're feeling is important, while also bringing clarity to what is known, will help people feel a greater sense of calm.

With these elements in mind, let's consider how to create the most constructive and energizing way to share feedback and create a positive shift—virtually. The core components are quite similar; yet each requires its own nuance.

Building Trust Through Intention

As the person sharing feedback, you want the recipient to truly trust your intention—that your desired outcome is to see this person grow to be even more effective and successful. There's a saying, "with the right intent, you can share any content." If a person believes you have their best intentions in mind and if you have a good relationship, you can be direct and should worry less about the words. They'll read your intention regardless of the words. So, as stated above, the need for establishing connection and trust is paramount. So, when it comes time for sharing feedback virtually, first consider:

  • Where can you create virtual moments that are designed around building more connection and trust? How can you get to know each other personally, virtually? We love this deck of cards for a fresh take a check-in during a 1:1 or team meeting. Even more, being intentional about committing time beyond the subject at hand for personal connection.
  • How can you model more transparency so intensions are even more clear?
  • To help offset the trigger of uncertainty, where can you reduce anxiety through creating clarity, e.g., be clear with expectations, share how will decisions be made through times of change, when will decisions be made?

Providing Context AND Transparency

We can all relate to feedback that lacks context—there's no examples to help you truly understand the feedback, nor are you clear on where/who it's coming from so now you're doubly confused. This is one of the primary things that's broken in feedback today, it's unclear and anonymous. And in a world where uncertainty is triggered every day, unclear feedback shouldn't add to that. Next time you're gathering feedback, be sure to:

  • Ensure you are clear on what each person is telling you—ask them to provide an example or a story to bring their words to life.
  • Ask them to go further by asking them what they'd like to see instead. When you're able to gather the context and a suggestion for what could be even better next time, that truly sets up the person receiving the feedback for success.
  • Before you give the feedback—ask yourself, if someone said this to me, would I know what to do or what would make it better next time?

Capturing What Works & What to do Instead

This is the crux of the Shift Positive method—we never asking about weaknesses or what is broken. Rather, we work to understand what the person could do instead to be more effective. What is it you want them to-do (vs not do)? When you learn to frame your questions differently and focus on gathering feedback on both what's working/strengths and new desired behaviors, not only will you see others far more willing to provide feedback, you will see the recipient far more energized by having clear actions they can take to be more effective. Re-imagine your next virtual feedback convo like this:

  • You're both on a morning Zoom sharing a cup of coffee and you check in each sharing something open/vulnerable about how you're doing
  • You state you have some ideas for how your colleague can be even more successful and begin with highlighting some core strengths and specifically where/how you saw them using those strengths
  • You also share ideas from others for what they could do next time to be even more successful, and what specifically you can do to help.

It's Timely, and Even More Frequent

In a recent (mid Pandemic) study done by Life Labs Learning, 67% of the nearly 300 respondents stated now more than ever they are craving feedback given how alone and isolated they feel working from home with disparate teams. Feedback is most powerful within 24 hours of when the circumstances occurred so the recipient has clear recollection. This goes for positive and constructive feedback. Recognizing the elements of today's new normal and each person's working environment being less than ideal, timing matters here too. So, consider the following when giving timely feedback virtually:

  • When is the best time to set a 'check-in' with your colleague so each of you are at your best, able to be open and receptive to the dialogue?
  • Remember, not all feedback requires a full discussion. If you're able to send a quick slack or email comment that works too!
  • Research shows when a manager focuses on an employees strengths, the likelihood of them actively disengaging is only 1% (Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0)! Try it, here's an example: "Jen, I saw your StrengthsFinders Communication strength at play during this morning's zoom presentation—the slides where easy to read, use of infographics made them visually engaging, and your pacing and ability to field questions while still covering all the content on time was excellent."

Bringing in Social Support

We don't change by ourselves. And now more than ever since we aren't seeing each other smiling in the halls or able to exchange social cues more easily in meetings it's important to seek out opportunities to support each other through feedback. Often that support is as simple as positive reinforcement—if you know a colleague is working on asking more questions or you've given them feedback to gather more input from the group, then any time you see them doing this new behavior is an opportunity to reinforce it for them through your support and acknowledgement. Here's a challenge:

  • Of all the Zoom meetings you're now a part of—it's likely your participation isn't required at the same level in all. So, can you take one meeting a day and task yourself to look for behaviors in one (or more) colleagues that you can comment on and reinforce after the meeting (or during with a supportive chat message)? Try it—you might find it energizes you too!

We're all looking to up our "virtual game" as we accept that this will without a doubt remain a part of our future. At Change Positive, we've redesigned our training solutions so the experiences are equally effective virtually as in-person. We can train up your teams in how to give the most effective feedback through the Shift Positive method. Contact us—we're ready to help you change the way your leaders experience feedback!

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