How To Give Feedback At Work Without Being A Jerk

Let’s face it: nobody likes a know-it-all and nobody (well, most of us, anyway) don’t want to be one either. This is precisely why so many people worry about how to give feedback at work.

Depending on your reasons for offering feedback, it can be a slippery slope between being helpful or coming across as rude. Whether out of kindness or because it’s a job requirement, here are some general etiquette rules to consider when offering feedback to a coworker. These tips will help you deliver useful feedback and avoid creating frenemies in the office the next time you have to give feedback at work.

Know Your Place

First, let’s break down why you’re offering feedback in the first place. If it’s a job requirement, then that’s all the reason you need. If your job doesn’t require it, then you need to evaluate your intentions before dropping your knowledge on coworkers like mics at an Eminem concert. Offering feedback is a quick way to put someone on the defensive. A coworker with whom you share a friendship may respond better than a coworker you only speak to in passing.

Next, decide if your coworker proactively requested feedback or if you are you offering with no previous context. Solicited and unsolicited advice are vastly different things. If someone has asked you for feedback, it typically means they value your opinion. If they didn’t ask, you run the risk of coming across as pretentious. If you give feedback at work unexpectedly, it can make your coworker feel as though they have done something wrong or are being attacked. Even if they smile and agree, they may still harbor resentment for the intrusion. This is a surefire way to create a frenemy so remember the wise words of Walt from Breaking Bad and “tread lightly”.

Use Candor

Feedback can be easily interpreted as criticism, even if that’s not the intention. To spare your coworker’s feelings and create a safe environment, pull him or her aside to speak in private. If you give feedback at work in front of other coworkers, it will put them on the spot and can make them feel uncomfortable. They may shut down emotionally and not internalize any of the feedback you are doling out in effort to end an embarrassing moment.

If the feedback wasn’t required or expected, ask the person first. “Can I offer you some feedback?” For the sake of avoiding an awkward situation, they will likely say yes whether they want it or not, but at least they know it’s coming their way. Always ask. Do not just start giving them advice out of the blue. Doing so will make people deeply uncomfortable and even bitter towards you.

Taylor Your Feedback

It’s important to remember that everyone thinks, communicates and interprets feedback quite differently. For example, while you may have a very abstract way of thinking, the individual you’re delivering feedback to may need a more linear approach. Tools like Good&Co’s free app can help you learn more about the communication style of your teammates and give you tips on how to collaborate better at work.

Maintain Your Balance

If your feedback is nothing more than an itemized list of what they could improve upon, there’s going to be some resentment. To prevent the person from feeling picked on, make sure to balance positive and negative feedback equally. The next time you have to give feedback at work, try saying something like, “I really liked how you did this, but I noticed that this could be done a little differently.”

Moreover, feedback should be supportive and helpful. Spend as much time talking about the person’s strengths as you spend on their weaknesses. Tearing down a person’s confidence doesn’t help anything, so be descriptive when offering feedback. For each point you bring up, make sure you can provide an example, and offer prescriptive advice on how they can improve in the future.

Don’t be a Jerk

No matter how right you are or how wrong you think they were, there is no excuse to be unkind in your feedback. This is where you need to check your emotions at the door and work on being constructive rather than rude. Perhaps the employee needs a refresher regarding the appropriate use of the “Reply to All” button on email, or maybe there were ways to avoid the massive toner stain on the carpet that can be implemented in the future to keep things in the office less messy. In any case, your language and tone will directly affect whether this is remembered as a learning experience or a scolding. Test the feedback on yourself before offering it to someone else. How would you feel if someone told you what you were telling them? How would it make you feel? If you aren’t alright with it, you need to reevaluate your messaging strategy.

Feedback is a powerful tool if you are careful to share your knowledge and advice in a manner that doesn’t put anyone instinctively on the defensive. It can also empower the individual to improve their performance and work in favor of the company as a whole. On the flip side, feedback that isn’t warranted or requested can quickly create animosity. Knowing your place and planning your wording ahead of time will go a long way in making sure your feedback is received positively by your peers.


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