How to give better remote feedback

Improving team culture through collaborative feedback

Jennifer Dennard,
5-minute read Yellow Squiggle

We’ve all had times where we’ve been given the “gift of feedback,” and it feels less like a present and more like being handed a flaming pile of garbage. 🔥 I remember one of those times like it was yesterday.

My manager was in the process of resigning, and my skip-level manager had taken me aside to share feedback.

“She’s resigning because of you.”

Taken aback, I just stared at him. He proceeded to detail the ways in which I had mismanaged my relationship with my manager.

He offered no solutions, no acknowledgment of my freely flowing tears, and no mention of his own role in the situation. He let me share my thoughts but asked no questions, and closed with “You need to fix this.”

🤦‍♀️ While I can’t say that he was my favorite boss, I also can’t fault him too deeply for his approach to sharing feedback. He was following a pretty standard playbook: Don’t get emotional, be clear and concise with the facts, and hold the other person accountable to changing.

And while that’s a common approach to feedback, it’s frequently ineffective and can even be harmful to building team culture.

Now imagine if that had happened over video. Remote work adds a new variable to giving feedback effectively because we have fewer signals to process the information—on both the giving and receiving side. Remote feedback requires more intentionality and preparation, but it's possible to give just as effective feedback as in person.

Why feedback should be a two-way conversation

Feedback is often described as something we give or deliver to another person. We try to optimize our delivery of the feedback, making it a compliment sandwich 🥪 or collecting data from others to support our point.

This lens on feedback means that after we deliver the feedback, our job is done. Now, it’s the other person’s job to make changes and fix the problem. It's particularly easy to fall into this trap when working remote because you hop off the video call and that's it! The other person is out of sight and out of mind.

But no one feels good in that situation. The recipient suddenly has a problem they didn’t know they had. 😬 And you no longer have agency in being part of the solution—you’ve given the problem away, so if it’s solved in a way that you didn’t expect or in a way that makes things worse, you’ll be stuck with trying to give feedback again.

Instead of trying to deliver your feedback more clearly, shift your whole mindset. Make feedback a collaborative process.

As Brene Brown shares in her feedback checklist, you’re ready to give feedback when you’re ready to sit beside the other person — not across from them. In other words, feedback is about working together to find a solution. It’s not about me vs. you or about handing off a problem. 🤝

Through this lens, suddenly it’s my role not just to make sure you understand my feedback but also to understand how you feel and what you see about the problem. We work together to find a solution, which means we both feel agency and support. And that way, it really is constructive feedback, not negative feedback.

While being on a remote team doesn't allow me to actually sit next to my teammate, I often ask myself how I would feel delivering this feedback if I were sitting next to them. That often helps me evaluate whether I've prepared enough and am ready to discuss.

How to make the feedback conversation productive

When you approach feedback as a collaborative conversation, it changes what you do. It’s less about refining your message or being prepared for conflict and more about engaging your sense of curiosity and empathy.

Find the right time

Sometimes, feedback can feel urgent. Like you need to schedule a meeting now to talk about it, or your next one-on-one has to cover this. And while this might work out ok, you may also catch your teammate at a particularly difficult time for them.

Maybe they didn’t sleep well this week, or they’re dealing with a sick child or parent, or they’re sprinting to meet a deadline. 😰

Even though delivering feedback may feel urgent, don’t rush it.

When you’re planning feedback, take into account the broader context and try to find a time where your teammate will be at their best and most receptive. If you are on a remote team, consider what timezone they're in and the other meetings on their calendar.

Remember: sharing feedback when someone isn’t able to hear it is the same as not sharing it at all.

Start with questions

It’s tempting to enter a feedback conversation with a bulleted list of what you want the other person to know. After all, the whole point is that you know something they don’t, right?

Well, no. The problem with this attitude is that it overlooks everything you don't know about a situation. It can be easy to get caught up in the problem you see and lose track of the fact that there are other viewpoints and additional context you may not have. Just think of a time where someone critiqued your work but they didn’t really understand what your goal or your constraints were.

That’s why you should always start feedback with questions and a true sense of curiosity.

Some good starting questions are:

  • How are you doing?
  • How do you think we’re doing with this project?
  • How are you feeling about that goal?
  • Are you facing any challenges with your work? If so, how can I help?
  • How do you think we’re working together? Do you have any feedback for me?

One thing to watch out for is using leading questions to try to guide the conversation to make a point. This is where curiosity comes in. As you ask questions, keep an open mind. Try not to guess the answers or predict what the other person will say. Even if you’re right, you’ll be distracted and miss what the other person is sharing and feeling.

If you have any written documentation of projects or work, make sure to review it in advance. Nothing is worse than sharing feedback, and your teammate has already made the changes or fixed the issues.

It's okay to be emotional

Getting angry, tearing up, or withdrawing into silence are all normal reactions to getting or giving feedback. You don’t need to use a flat, robot voice to share feedback with someone. 🤖

In fact, it’s important for you to share how you feel. You just need to be clear with yourself and with the other person on what your feelings are vs. what actions they took. Using the formula, “I feel x when you do y” is a simple but easy way to be clear about the distinction between these two things. (Just make sure you don’t say things like “I feel like you’re an asshole when…” that’s not a feeling. 😉 Check out this list of feelings to help you articulate yourself next time.)

And on the flip side, if the recipient gets emotional—defensive, angry, sad, hurt—that’s okay too. This is where being collaborative is important. It’s your role to help them process, to give them time and space, and to be present when they’re ready to talk about finding a solution.

On a remote team, emotions over video can be particularly hard to handle. Folks process in different ways, and it's often easier to tell when someone needs a break when you're both in person. When dealing with remote work, it's important to create other ways for someone to signal they need a break. You could check in with someone throughout the conversation or consider starting the conversation by saying they can take a break at any time. Plus, try to keep an eye out for signals that someone may be feeling emotional but isn't comfortable showing it like withdrawing into silence or turning video off.

Normalize their emotions—and yours—as part of the process.

Feedback that moves us forward

A culture based on feedback is a hallmark of highly effective teams. All of us want to do our best at work, and we can’t do that without support from our teammates. Treating feedback as a collaborative conversation will help you and your team share honest feedback more frequently and make positive changes more often. 🙌

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How to give better remote feedback and build collaborative team culture
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