Providing Difficult Peer Feedback
As organizations move towards cultures of coaching and real-time feedback, the ability of peer groups to provide meaningful performance feedback will need to grow. In some regards, giving difficult feedback to a peer can be even more challenging than if it were part of your supervisory duties. Since giving peers feedback often isn’t required or part of the group’s norms, providing performance coaching can feel out-of-place to initiate. And if this is the first time, your peer might not understand your motivations. Whether this is a new behavior you’d like to start for your group, something you’re intentionally trying to develop for yourself, or stems from a desire to help a particular colleague, here are a few things to consider that can help you take a coaching approach to providing performance-focused feedback:
- Build rapport and establish trust: Clearly, it’s easier to deliver, and receive, difficult feedback if your receiving partner isn’t blindsided by an unsolicited remark from someone who has never expressed concern in the past. Ideally, well before you are compelled to provide difficult feedback to a peer, you’ve taken the time to engender trust (thanks, Jane E. Dutton) by speaking in ways that convey it, like using inclusive language, sharing valuable information, and letting others know what your thoughts are on issues that are important to you both.
- Check your motivations: A coach approach means checking in with your ego and asking yourself why you want to deliver this feedback. You want your colleague to know you support them and are interested in helping them have the best impact for themselves, the team, and organization. If this isn’t your main motivation, your feedback could be construed as your need to be right, competitive, mean-spirited, or any number of unsupportive, self-serving intentions.
- Question your assumptions: It’s easy to think we know why someone is behaving a certain way, or what they should do to fix it. These assumptions, though, can stop us from learning what’s really happening and actually being of service.
- Get curious by checking in: After you’ve checked in on your assumptions, spend some time getting curious about what’s really happening. You might want to learn more before providing specific feedback.
- Remember your open hand: The feedback you give to your peer will be up to them to receive, make meaning of, and take action on. Giving feedback with an open hand means remembering that this feedback is theirs to do with what they are able, and might not be our way or on our terms.
When you’re ready to provide difficult feedback with an open mind and an open hand, consider this process:
Behavior – Focus on the specific behavior or action that you would like to provide feedback on. Simply tell them what you’re noticing.
Inquiry – Ask open ended questions to try to better understand your peer’s intentions. What caused them to choose to behave or take the action they did?
Result – Explain the result of that individual’s actions or behaviors on you, the team, and/or the organization. Help the individual understand how their actions had an impact and ask how that matters to them.
Action – Articulate a possible action you suggest your peer take as a result of the feedback conversation. Check in to see if that strikes a chord or what they would like to consider doing differently. Ask how you can support them and explain what next steps you will take to do so.
Remember, you don’t have to give difficult feedback and your peer doesn’t have to do anything with it. Make providing difficult feedback to a peer a positive experience by demonstrating you are noticing them and are in support of their growth. Rather than dropping a bomb and leaving your colleague to figure what to do alone, let them know you are available to support and partner with them on their terms.