How to Give Your Coworker Feedback Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Gusto Editors

We joined forces with Lattice to build a practical feedback guide for small businesses. Read the rest of the series and learn how to give non-jerky feedback to your bossemployee, and client.

At a previous job, I gave feedback to a coworker and was, to be blunt, a total jerk about it.

This job had an open office plan, so any discussions were heard by everyone—to circumvent this, I sent my coworker, Hermione, an email. While enough time has passed that I can’t remember the reason for the feedback, I can remember the effect: my coworker came up to me in person, crestfallen at the coldness of the email. (I do know that I signed the email “regards”—a detail I remember because my coworker was particularly thrown off by that.)

Hermione asked if they could talk about the problem in person instead, and apologized for the mistake while I squirmed in discomfort and embarrassment. But I also apologized for my method and promised to direct my feedback to my coworker in person in the future—and with much less drama (perhaps even no drama?).

What went wrong

The problem here is the way the discussion was started and framed. The Lattice employee (me, to be clear) wasn’t wrong to send an email to have a feedback discussion, but it should only have been the start of a discussion, or the suggestion to have one—perhaps outside the office.

The problem is, these conversations can seem scary or awkward or daunting. They can certainly be somewhat uncomfortable! But they don’t have to be, and approaching them straight on, with the clearest, economical language you can muster, can make the whole process of giving and receiving feedback from coworkers a lot easier, simpler, and, ultimately, more helpful in the long run.

A long email was not required; instead, a simple “Hey, can we talk about [x]?” gives the other person a chance to understand what their coworker wants to talk about. By moving the conversation to the real world, it can go from long missive to a simple back-and-forth. This kind of back-and-forth is particularly important for coworkers, because it serves to preserve the dynamic of mutual respect and power.

Between coworkers, there has to be the promise that whatever suggestions or critiques or ideas you have or make regarding your coworker and their work, they are the ones who make the final call.  

Your feedback checklist

Before giving your coworker feedback, ask yourself a few questions. This will help you identify what your end goal is for the feedback, and how this conversation will get you both there.

  • Why do you want to give feedback?
  • What specifically are you giving feedback about?
  • If your feedback is praise, can you make it public?

Keep reading here on the Lattice blog.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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