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Giving Feedback to People You Don’t Often See in Person

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

You may have team members, co-workers, or even a boss you hardly ever see in person. However, they may play a very big role in your success (or lack thereof…).

Maybe you’re on the same project or work with the same customer. At least you have a common goal and you both care about delivering high quality work to accomplish this goal. This person may work in the same huge building, they may travel a lot, or they may work across town or in a different company. They may be a contractor or both of you may work out of your homes. We’re presuming, however, that you do see the person at least a few times a year and can arrange more phone or in-person contact when it is a high priority.

How do you give and receive feedback regularly in a way that stays friendly, casual, and super-productive for both of you? Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Invest some of your valuable time and energy cultivating a positive relationship. You’re groaning, “Oh no. That’s exactly why I’m reading this blog. I want to deliver feedback quickly, and without hassle.”

No matter what, you must establish an atmosphere of trust. And that cannot happen unless you have chances to show a personal interest, acknowledge how they contribute toward your joint success, and hold confidential their comments when they don’t know how to do something. When they ask your advice about how to communicate with others, listen very closely and ask a few clarifying questions before offering some simple advice. You can only cultivate a positive working relationship when you ask them open-ended questions and devote time to casual conversations.

Tip #2: Ask for and offer regular feedback exchanges when you do talk. This doesn’t have to be a big, scary process. Just mention in your next meeting that you’d like to start exchanging feedback with one another about how you can both do better. For example:

“I know we can help each other do a better job. For instance, you might want to ask me to get the orders in earlier or provide more details about what the customer said. I may have ideas about marketing to certain people. Would you like to start at the end of our status report today?”

Tip #3: Offer a feedback “chunk” that is important, but not super hard to implement When you start the feedback process, you want to be authentic about what would really help the two of you on shared goals. And you want that topic to be something you can both celebrate when the change is made. At the same time, avoid any topic that you know is a weak spot for them and would frustrate them when just coming out of the feedback gate. Include the feedback topic and how their current approach has impacted your shared goals. For example: “When you can’t get the material to customers right away, we’re finding out that they’re checking out our competitor, X.” Then make a positive suggestion for what they can do to implement the change and ask for their ideas too. Boom, you’ve said it. Get ready to see improvements!

Tip #4: Be ready to avoid defensiveness When you do receive their feedback, whether that day or on another day, sit on your hands if you feel one ounce of defensiveness. Start by thanking them for the feedback and acknowledge that it’s an important point. If you absolutely can’t think of how or why to implement their feedback (not too likely), tell them you want to think about it and come up with some ideas on how to implement it the next time you talk. Avoid a quick answer that hurts your mutual trust.


Anna Carroll, MSSW, is an executive coach and author of The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success, which debuts Anna’s popular COIN feedback model. Through she offers tools, training and organizational support to help leaders at all levels increase the quantity and quality of the feedback they exchange with team members, resulting in improved workplace morale and overall company goals and profit.

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