As the pandemic trudges on and on, our need to remain flexible is all-the-more important, yet challenging! Now, add to that, having to provide critical? negative? feedback to a direct report. According to Therese Huston, in her Harvard Business Review article Giving Critical Feedback is Even Harder Remotely, sharing critical feedback is even more challenging remotely. ” Huston showcases the challenges. First, Zoom makes it more difficult to create the tone for the conversation. For example, when we are in person, a more formal conversation might warrant the conference room, whereas delivering a sensitive topic might call for a more inviting and relaxing environment. Second, we might miss important body language and cues  warning us the conversation is not proceeding as intended.

Huston provides practical advice to help the conversation proceed as intended. 

  1. Begin the conversation with questions for your direct report that relate directly to the feedback you’re about to give. Asking how a meeting or presentation went is important to understand their perspective before sharing yours.
  2. Let your direct report know what you value about them. This helps them  receive feedback in a more productive way. Example: “I want you to know you are a valued member of our team.”
  3. Share your intent. Doing so helps them hear your story without them creating their own (most often, their story negatively interprets your intentions). Example: “My intention for today is to discuss how to make your presentations more engaging.”
  4. Be ready to clarify any misunderstandings. Simply restating their statements before adding yours  can be really effective. As an example, your employee might say, “I didn’t realize I was the only one here who had to be on time to team meetings.”  You might clear up a misunderstanding by saying, “I don’t want you to think you are the only team member expected to be on time. I do want to talk about your last three meetings you’ve been late to.” This can be a very effective way to set expectations while also clearing up confusion, as demonstrated brilliantly by the authors of Crucial Conversations.

We don’t know when we’ll return to a more “normal” work environment, if ever. Our ability to adapt and continue to invest in our people will be a key factor in how we weather our ever-changing world.

By: Lisa Neale, Associate Director, University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Ombuds Office