Giving feedback can be hard and it can be scary. It can be especially awkward when giving peer to peer feedback.

As leaders, we might be comfortable with talking to direct supports but offering feedback to peers can be uncomfortable.

Do you ever find yourself questioning whether it’s your job to give feedback?

Should it come from you?

Should it come from your boss?

Will it be well received coming from you?

Or will it hurt the relationship?

Giving feedback is a critical skill in the professional setting and one that when used effectively can help build trust and effectiveness with your peers. But how?

How do we offer necessary feedback when we’re not the boss?

Let’s keep it real here. We’re talking about difficult feedback. We’re discussing constructive feedback that is around an area of improvement, a problematic behavior or perception.

Giving the good feedback is usually pretty easy. We want to give the positive.

However, we need to be able to offer both positive and constructive in a professional setting.

Hopefully the feedback sandwich is good and dead but I think a framework for giving feedback is still helpful.

I like to use the 5 steps listed below but if these don’t work for you, there are literally hundreds of articles online about giving feedback. Find what makes this process work for you. You’ll know it’s working because how people respond to your feedback should improve.


1. Check Your Motivations

Before you can start offering your feedback you need to check your motivation. Don’t go around in circles for hours questioning yourself but do take a minute to make sure the feedback is about their actions or behavior and not about you.

Intentions matter in feedback. The best intentions won’t save bad delivery but the best delivery can’t save crap intentions either and will likely feel manipulative.

Your feedback has to come from a place of offering value to the other person. It had to be about them and for them. Anything less and you’re serving the wrong purpose.

This is especially important when giving feedback to a peer or managing up.


Think of it this way:

If you’re annoyed because your peer is talking loudly on the phone at their desk and you’re tired of hearing those conversations, it’s about you. Check yourself.

If you’re concerned for their privacy or that their manager might think they’re taking personal calls at work and you want to make sure they’re doing the right thing, it’s about them. Go forth.


2. Ask permission to offer feedback.

Start by getting permission to give feedback. Literally ask if you can offer feedback. Use the words, “Can I offer you some feedback?

Sometimes people can’t hear your feedback. Sometimes the timing of your feedback is off.

It is incredibly powerful to have someone give permission. It empowers them to pick the time and setting they will be most open and responsive to feedback.  It gives you the buy-in to hold them accountable. Permission will get you farther than dumping your thoughts on them when it’s convenient for you.

My favorite part of asking is that you can also ask, “How do you best receive feedback?” which increases the chances they’ll hear it too!

I know I am someone who really likes direct and specific feedback. Don’t bury the lead. Don’t try to soften the blow. Just tell me so I can process and move towards solutions.


Think of it this way: 

If they say no, they probably wouldn’t have heard your feedback anyway. Now you’re not wasting time and energy.

If they say yes, you’ve gained their buy in at least enough to be able to proceed. They know it’s coming so you’re not going to catch them off guard.


3. Be Specific

Some of the worst feedback I’ve received has been vague. Vague gives me no way to assess the feedback. It doesn’t allow for a plan forward.

Giving feedback needs to about specific named behaviors or actions that can be adjusted for improved performance. Anything less is too subjective and can do a lot of damage in the relationship.

If you are offering feedback because you want to help someone, then your feedback needs to have all of the data they need to see your point of view and create solutions.

They might not agree with you. They might have information you don’t. They might be completely surprised to hear their actions are perceived a certain way. And without specifics, they might write off everything you’ve offered because it’s not actionable.


Think of it this way: 

If it’s specific, it offers clear options for steps forward.

If it’s vague, it’s subjective and might do more damage than good.


4. Be Open and Vulnerable

There is something so disarming about transparency and vulnerability.

I recently had someone come talk to me and share that they were really uncomfortable with having the conversation but they really wanted me to understand where they were coming from. Knowing that they were struggling made it so easy for me to give them space to stumble. I was able to go through the conversation where they stumbled and reworked what they meant because I knew we were in this together. I was learning from them and they were learning from me. It built trust.

You never know where people are coming from until you open up that avenue of trust. Maybe that peer is struggling with skill and they know they’re not doing well but are too embarrassed to ask for help. Maybe they’re going through some difficult times at home and they don’t realize how they show up.

I know that I act differently when stressed instead of calm and focused. It sometimes takes my trusted peers mentioning  that my behavior has shifted for me to realize I’m showing up differently than I want to. But I’d much rather have my peers redirect me over having to have an attitude or performance conversation with my boss.


Think of it this way: 

If you’re open and vulnerable, you might soften the blow and you’ll definitely have your good intentions show.

If you don’t share that it’s uncomfortable for you honestly, they might miss your message because your delivery isn’t perfect. More pressure is on your delivery if you’re not letting them know you you’re in it with them.


5. Offer your support.

If your feedback is offered from a good place, is accepted and understood, then the next step is offering support to help create positive change. This doesn’t mean you offer them YOUR solution to their problem. It means you ask them what they need to be successful and figure out how to support that need.

By all means, part of that support might be offering potential solutions. It might be giving your advice on making changes. But don’t assume that. Maybe they need you to hold them accountable but make sure that it’s their idea and they buy into it. You’ll have wasted your trust with them if you assume you know best for them.


Think of it this way: 

If you offer feedback and your support, you’ll get to be a part of their success and growth.

If you offer feedback and leave them to their own devices entirely, they’ll likely question your intentions.


Giving feedback may never be comfortable. You might not feel like it’s your place to give constructive feedback to your peers. However, I know I’d much rather have a trusted peer, with my best interest at heart offer me feedback than be blindsided later or never know that there was a better way to do something.


Do you have examples of this being done well? How about horror stories we can learn from? What other tips on offering feedback do you have?


Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash