Before You Send Feedback Via Email, Make Sure These 3 Conditions Are Met
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
I hear a lot of horror stories about bosses and co-workers who fire off negative comments over email and how insulting and ineffective the results can be. And in my workshops and coaching about feedback, I always caution people to avoid giving extensive or unexpected feedback in any manner other than through personal conversation.
However, it’s often impossible to reach people by phone or in person every time you need to suggest improvements to the way they are doing their work. And really, feedback can be handled very well by email if certain criteria are met.
Before you email feedback to someone, make sure:
#1 You have a relationship based on a shared goal. Make sure you know the person and you have chatted with them informally before you attempt to send serious feedback over email. Make sure you and the other person have a common goal in mind—whether it’s a joint project or other business target you can point to. If your feedback feels out of the blue or like an insult, you will trash any trust the two of you might have shared and you will need to do a lot of repairing of the relationship later. If you’re from outside of their direct team, you should preface the comment with the context of your comment. Why does this issue matter to you and the work that you do? And say it in a polite and respectful way.
#2 You have already exchanged some feedback in a conversation. You want to already have a track record of constructive conversation with them. The best situation is where you’ve been speaking honestly over several interchanges, and you both appreciate the improvements that have come out of your dialogue. Then you are building on your strong foundation of trust and if handled well, it will open the door to many more conversations now and in the future. If you suspect the other person is not sure of your motives, due to a lack of firsthand experience with you and your comments, they may resist any email message containing constructive criticism.
#3 You focus the feedback on a positive request or suggestion for the future. If the email is full of blame about what the other person did wrong, they will be shocked and resistant to your email. Imagine them telling someone down the hall about your obnoxious message. Start the email with a message about what you are suggesting they do going forward, and only then explain—as simply as possible—why you are suggesting this change from the past. Everyone wants to get it right and be part of the solution. If the reasons you are suggesting a change are complex or highly sensitive, re-think your approach and set up a phone call or meeting.
Emailed feedback can speed up success
If you can meet these 3 conditions, go forth and email your feedback speedily and successfully! In the “everyday feedback” message I offer in The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success, the aim is to de-sensitize the trauma of giving and receiving feedback so that everyone is doing it all the time—between co-workers, employee to manager and boss to team members. A “no big deal” approach to feedback offers the option for you to use email communication to do it!