As a mentor – “how do I give this feedback” has to be one of my most frequently asked questions of #alltime. After years of answering the question – it is still one of my favourites. The thing is, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer – each discussion will be unique to the environment and people involved. What I can say is that ‘I will just send an email’ never gets a great outcome!

Here is the thing about feedback: feedback without social cues is like trying to pay for your coffee with monopoly money. You can do it – but it might not go well for you!

When we communicate with someone in person (or even via phone), we have the ability to pick up on things like facial expressions, physical gestures, and verbal tone. This social interaction allows us to decide what to do next based on those cues.

When we communicate through email, that feedback loop is non-existent. Enter the natural “negativity bias”. When we think we nailed that email, the recipient will likely have a neutral feel about it. When we think that email was bland – they will assume its negative.In the absence of the social cues, our brain will skew toward the negative. Not to mention - sarcasm, humour and intent can all fail miserable in the written form.

Does that mean you should never put feedback in writing?


No, but it is important to understand that email as a standalone form of feedback should be a last resort [*even when we are all locked in #iso because of #COVID-19*].


Written feedback provides a critical analysis step for the recipient – what we should be doing is taking the written feedback step as an action from a previous feedback interaction.


Where possible – feedback discussions should ALWAYS be in person. Sometimes we have to settle for the #virtual world. In the first instance, go with a video call (seeing facial expressions is crucial part of how we interpret social interactions, particularly around things like intent). If a video conference is not a viable option – go with a phone call. This will still give you benefit of vocal tone (and can be accompanied by the phone of a face to face discussion).

ALWAYS start your feedback discussion with a ‘heads up’ statement: “are you okay if we run through some feedback on this mornings client meeting” or “is now a good time to debrief on the Smith Report”. This allows the other party to ‘opt out’ in the event that they are not prepare, remembering that ‘opt out’ means postpone to a later agreed time!


Be sure to flag with the other party that you will follow up with an email, but wanted to be able to discuss things in detail first. This creates the opportunity to loop back your feedback to the recipient with an email, acknowledging the discussion (face to face, video of phone discussion) and summarising your key feedback points. The written communication should also include the details of any support available and clearly articulate your expectations moving forward. Concerned about who the email will be interpreted? – try reading it aloud to yourself before you send it. Look for language that requires tone or social ques, and try amend the written text to better reflect that tone.

Lastly, remember – the Golden Rules of feedback still apply, irrespective of the method of delivery:

  1. Preparation is key – Don’t avoid feedback, prepare for it. Consider time, location, forum,support and impacts.
  2. Be descriptive: Use examples to help create visibility to areas for improvement or issues of concern. Avoid the #buzz words and talking to fill the void of silence.
  3. Be Constructive – Focus on the facts not the individual (facts not feelings). This is about creating a positive outcome for someone else – focus on that.
  4. Make it actionable – Feedback needs to be useful and not expect the impossible.
  5. Don’t wait - The longer you wait to give feedback, the less impactful your comments will be. The conversation you avoid today is the sword you fall on later.
  6. Be human – Feedback discussions are hard. Be honest with the other party if you are nervous. Don’t let fear of the process create a missed opportunity for improvement for someone else!

And when all else fails – reach out to a mentor. Those that put the effort into feedback conversations – reap the rewards through positive outcomes and stronger relationships.

Jane McConville

With a passion for strategic thinking, Jane believes ardently in collaborating with clients to solve their problems through specific, tailored, and realistic advice that supports....

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