It’s fair to say that most people don’t enjoy feedback conversations. It’s common for individuals to become anxious at the thought of giving or receiving feedback about people and their performance. Concerns can be exacerbated as we transition to the more regular use of virtual communication.

When it comes to virtual feedback some common challenges people face include;

  1. The discomfort that can come, for some of us, with any sort of changed process – especially when stakes are high and personal;
  2. A misalignment between the feedback giver and receiver as to the type of feedback in question;
  3. The discomfort of being trapped in close scrutiny by a giant screen; or conversely,
  4. The sense that the screen gets in the way of connection and therefore empathy

What can we do to overcome these challenges? Let’s take a closer look.

The discomfort of a changed process.

One large misconception about virtual feedback is that it is a new skill altogether. In fact, it’s not. Yes, the way we present to each other is different, but the process of giving feedback effectively does not change. We need to improve the skill. Adopt a clear process to follow and clarify it with the person who will be your partner in the session in advance of the meeting. Prepare well. Nothing augurs for success like preparing sensibly.

A misalignment between the feedback giver and receiver as to the type of feedback in question.

In their hugely popular text, “Thanks for the Feedback” Shelia Heen and Douglas Stone of Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation identified that there are three types of feedback. Appreciation, Coaching and Evaluation. One of the biggest challenges we face in virtual and face to face feedback is the frequent misalignment between feedback giver and receiver as to the type of feedback. Imagine putting in extra effort and late nights for a report looking for appreciation from your boss only to be met with hard evaluation. This misalignment impacts whether we hear the feedback. You could try to encourage some kind of headline to be communicated between the giver and receiver in advance of the meeting, to set expectations.

Being trapped in close scrutiny on a giant screen.

It’s tough. If we’re self-conscious about being on a screen, then doing so for an important, sensitive discussion might magnify the awkwardness. Try to position yourself and the view of the other person so that it best mimics real life proportions. Sit back a little from your camera to reduce the close up effect. The other person may feel just as weird talking to a little circle on their screen. Again, being well prepared helps us to cope with the bumps and big moments in these sorts of conversation. Take some time to prepare your talking points and also your appearance, in the way that feels best for you.

The sense that we lose intimacy and therefore empathy.

Many people are terrified of delivering feedback virtually for fear that it will complicate an already shaky relationship. As if not being in the same room as someone disables them from connecting with on a human level. We can still create connection online; it just takes more work. If there is more than one other person in the talk with you, try speaker view, to personalise the experience, rather than seeing multiple faces.

We need to ensure we build sufficient relational trust before we deliver feedback. Spend time before we deliver the feedback creating a personal connection. Make time for it, it won’t happen by itself.

Understanding feedback, what it is and how to give it impacts our willingness to deliver it virtually. What we need is a clear process. One that allows us to identify the type of feedback we’re delivering, how to deliver it and practice it virtually. To learn more about how to do this, visit Effective Feedback.

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