Coworkers are often in the best position to see ways in which their colleagues can improve their performance. Peer feedback can be helpful and productive, but it needs to be offered with tact and respect.
Q: I have a coworker who is talented, but she sometimes says and does things that I think get in the way of her success. Is there a tactful way I can offer her feedback without seeming condescending or like I’m overstepping?
A: Most professionals appreciate feedback from their peers, but you’re right to approach your colleague about this with caution.
As a coworker, you’re in a good position to observe your colleague in a variety of settings and discern strengths and weaknesses that even her manager might not be aware of. You may have worked closely together on a project, or perhaps you’ve seen how she interacts with others in a workspace you share. Offering constructive feedback to help her improve can have a tangible, positive impact—not just for your colleague, but for your team, department, and organization as well.
The tricky part of peer feedback is that it has to be given and received in a positive way. If it’s seen as a personal attack, you could lose a valued colleague and perhaps damage your own professional reputation. To avoid getting too personal, give feedback that focuses on the work and not the coworker.
If peer feedback is seen as a personal attack, you could lose a valued colleague and perhaps damage your own professional reputation.
For example, don’t say, “You could have done a better job with the presentation this morning.” Instead, say, “Your presentation today might have had a more impact if it had included additional data.” This gives your colleague an opening to ask for more information—for example, what data would have been helpful, where to get it, and how to present it—and you send the message that you were paying attention and wanted her to be successful.
Keep in mind that feedback of any kind—be it from a manager or from a peer—should be given in private and soon after you observe the behavior. It should also be as specific as you can make it.
Finally, always be as respectful as possible when offering peer feedback. And be empathetic—before you talk with your colleague, think about how you might feel if she said to you what you plan to say to her. Then, revise your feedback if needed and offer it at an appropriate moment.