Despite all of the devices at our fingertips to simplify collaboration and communication at the office, many of us are still poor communicators. Or maybe we’re great and that one person at work isn’t. And importantly, we aren’t able, willing, or equipped to provide feedback to make those around us better.
About three-quarters of working professionals, surveyed by the American Management Association in March 2014, report poor internal communication was causing their organization to move as if it were stuck in a bubble. And it is clear organization leaders are on a constant uphill battle to improve communication. A recent RingCentral survey shows 44 percent of upper management surveyed hope for a wider adoption of internal communication tools.
But tools alone won’t fix the communication issues you’re struggling with, especially those issues creating tension with a co-worker. The best option could turn out to be good, old-fashioned, one-on-one feedback among professionals — the kind you’re often afraid to give and many struggle to receive.
Ultimately, it’s your job to provide feedback when it’s warranted. Otherwise, your colleague won’t realize that adjustments are needed to his or her approach, and you (and others) will continue to be frustrated.
If someone acts or speaks in a way that creates a poor work environment, derails work, creates inefficiencies, or offends, here’s your step-by-step guide to giving good, productive feedback.
1. Be timely.
Don’t wait weeks to bring up an issue. The longer you wait, the less relevant the conversation becomes. Not to mention, it will be harder for your colleague to remember and therefore address what he or she said or did.
But, especially if you’re upset, step away for a few minutes to compose yourself first. Give yourself 10 or 15 minutes to think about what you want to say before approaching your co-worker. Then, go back and provide feedback once you’re calm and collected. It needs to be timely to have an impact.
2. Be direct.
If you truly want to resolve a communication issue, speak directly to your colleague. Don’t talk about the person you’re upset with to another colleague or friend, or vent to a family member or spouse. How will that make that person better? It won’t, even if it makes you feel better in the short-term.
Take your issues directly to the person for whom you have feedback. It’s the only way to turn the situation around. This person isn’t a mind-reader. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that he or she doesn’t even know there’s an issue. The only way to make it better is to sit down and have a friendly, productive feedback session.
3. Be careful — as in, full of care.
The person receiving feedback needs to know that the issue at hand is important to you, but it’s really important that he/she knows that this conversation is about helping him/her get better. To that end, start out the chat by sincerely telling the person that you care about your working relationship, and that you want them to be the best they can be — which is why you’re providing feedback. You don’t want to see your colleague run into the same communication issues with others, and have that impact their career.
Let your colleague know that this is just as much about how much you care about him/her, as it is about you. For instance, you could say, “I like working with you, and I want you to be the best you can be so we can crush this project together. With that in mind, I have some feedback I’d like to give you.” Really put it out there, and ensure that the message is not only about you, but also about your colleague’s success.
4. Be consistent.
Consistency helps develop your organization’s cultural norms and values. If you’re consistent with your communication and feedback practices, you’ll have fewer issues communicating with colleagues overall.
To that end, don’t pick and choose when to give feedback. Speak up when you notice an opportunity for improvement. But make sure they are real, fixable issues, so you don’t end up being nit-picky. If the person doesn’t respect you or the feedback, one of two things will happen:
That person will be managed out, thanks to a strong organizational culture and values.
You will learn there are not strong values of respect and feedback at your organization. That means it might be time to work for another organization with those values or double down to help create that change in your current workplace.
5. Be specific.
Don’t be vague. Give specific examples of what’s not working to your colleague using this model:
“I really like working with you and want to see you be the best you can be here. Given that, I have a little feedback for you. When you say/write/do ______, what I hear/read/see is ______, and it makes me feel ______. I would appreciate if you considered ______ (suggestion of a new approach) such as ______ (specific example of an alternative that you feel would be more product or respectful).”
Though the workplace is inundated with devices that are supposed to revolutionize the way you communicate with co-workers, when it comes down to it, the most valuable communication tool is yourself. It’s your responsibility to provide people with the feedback they need to work more effectively.
What are some of your biggest challenges when communicating feedback to co-workers?