How To Give Effective Feedback Remotely — Smashing Magazine

Quick abstract ↬
Let’s discover give and obtain higher suggestions when working remotely — suggestions that’s actionable, particular, form, and that gained’t set you on edge. We’ll begin by explaining when suggestions periods don’t work and forestall it.

We want extra good suggestions in our world, and I don’t simply imply the kind of suggestions that celebrates your good work. I’m speaking about suggestions that’s actionable, particular, and type; suggestions that doesn’t set us on edge or make us fall into an anxious spiral; suggestions that helps us collaborate extra successfully. The type of suggestions that’s really actually laborious to do when working remotely.

In this text, I’ll focus on just a few methods to get round that problem. We’ll begin by studying what causes suggestions periods to get off observe, forestall this from occurring, and what to do when this occurs.

This article is focused towards designers and builders who’re presently working remotely or are planning to modify to distant work.


You’re a part of a distant design group in a small firm that’s presently having you concentrate on revising their to-do app’s design primarily based on some buyer suggestions and a few concepts that the corporate desires to validate. During your presentation to the corporate, somebody interrupts you. With their digicam off, they are saying: “Wait, why are we wasting time doing this? The existing page is fine. The older colors and layout were better and this new thing feels clunky. Just put the sign-up call to action at the top and be done with it.”

You’ve been doing this for just a few years, so this isn’t new to, you however you continue to really feel such as you obtained the wind knocked out of you. You get flushed and a bit offended, as a result of this individual hasn’t at all times been so unfriendly to you earlier than, and also you don’t wish to look unhealthy in entrance of the management. You begin to stumble over your phrases, which you assume makes you look unhealthy. Now you’re in a downward spiral.

Why Does Negative Feedback Elicit Such Strong Responses?

Mostly for 2 causes:

  1. We put numerous ourselves into what we do, and so it’s pure, that when confronted with damaging suggestions, we might take it personally. That’s completely comprehensible and human.
  2. Our mind perceives crucial suggestions and arguments in the identical approach it did hundreds of years in the past. We’ve gone from a decentralized, hunter-gatherer society to a modern-day society so rapidly (evolutionarily talking, after all) that our mind hasn’t been capable of preserve tempo with the adjustments. So, whereas we’re typically quite a bit much less prone to be bodily attacked at work immediately, our brains nonetheless understand disagreements simply as if we’re about to be. This is the explanation why oftentimes the one that disagrees with you on a extremely scorching design subject at work could seem to you in the very same approach as a caveman about to bean you with a rock to take your meals.

Our Brain’s Structure

Understanding how we route round this drawback requires a quick dialogue on how our brains understand battle. So, let’s dive into some neuroscience!

We’ll first focus on the three important ranges of our mind:

  • the neocortex (the place our rational, pondering mind lives),
  • the limbic mind (the place our feelings and emotions dwell),
  • the reptilian mind (the place our primary organic, survival packages dwell).

When we’re threatened, one thing referred to as the amygdala (which is our mind’s “smoke detector”) sounds the alarm and does two issues: it produces cortisol (a stress hormone) and diverts the blood circulate from the neocortex to the decrease ranges of our mind. This means at this second the a part of our mind that thinks and causes isn’t getting sufficient blood, so we turn into the real-life equal of the Incredible Hulk: simply pure struggle, flight, or freeze (solely with out the torn garments and inexperienced pores and skin). In his e-book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman calls this “amygdala hijacking.” It’s accountable for nearly all of our conflicts going awry.

“An amygdala hijack is an emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus, because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat. The term was coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

— Wikipedia

Psychological Safety

You need the receiver of the suggestions to really feel snug sufficient to listen to what you need to say with out triggering their amygdala response, and you’ll want to really feel snug sufficient to say it. This is known as psychological security, and it’s outlined like this:

“Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career (Kahn 1990, p. 708). It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.”

— Wikipedia

The instruments that observe will assist construct and keep psychological security by signaling that it’s not a dangerous state of affairs. Remember, once you lose security, it’s as a result of somebody’s survival circuits kicked in. Better put, psychological security is the underpinning of all good conversations.

When there isn’t security, resentment builds, suggestions will get conveniently ignored, and folks are likely to clam up and never give actual, useful suggestions.

How Can We Avoid It Going Sideways?

We’ll learn to give high-fidelity suggestions, share actionable and particular insights, in addition to give a bit conversational “first aid” by making refocusing statements.

Give High Fidelity Feedback

Having a battle when collaborating remotely causes us to lose what I call “high fidelity conversation,” leaving everybody at an obstacle. Here’s my definition:

High constancy dialog
It is a dialog during which all members have entry to the total vary of human communication, together with tone of voice in addition to non-verbal cues, equivalent to physique language and tone.

As increasingly more groups work remotely, we lose out on very important conversational cues, equivalent to physique language and tone of voice, leaving us at nighttime about what somebody actually means after they communicate. Let’s dig into why that is tough in order that we are able to body up an acceptable response.

To begin, let’s go over the totally different ranges of conversational constancy we are able to have and focus on what we lose in distant work communications:

  • In-person, which supplies us the total vary of verbal and non-verbal cues, equivalent to physique language, tone of voice, and the total vary of their voice.
  • Video, which loses a lot of the physique language as a consequence of cropping and the constancy of individuals’s voices (video chat apps typically compress audio).
  • Phone, which loses out on all non-verbal cues.
  • Text, which loses out on all non-verbal cues and the tone of voice.
  • Email, which loses out on the whole lot else, together with the synchronous communication (learn: Slack, numerous chat apps, SMS messages, and many others.) and leaves you solely with the transcript of what folks say.

The purpose for these robust conversations is to have them in as excessive a constancy as you presumably can. While e-mail and Slack have dramatically lowered the friction for communication, it’s come on the expense of readability and thoughtfulness. It’s far simpler to ship a half-baked e-mail that leaves an excessive amount of open to interpretation (bear in mind the final e-mail — or e-mail thread — you bought that was a forwarded e-mail with simply “thoughts?” included on a single line?). Plus, you’re on the mercy of the reader’s temper, frame of mind, or distractions they expertise, which may contribute to the lacking key components of your message.

More after soar! Continue studying beneath ↓

When we lose conversational constancy, our mind’s survival circuits activate and fill in all of the gaps within the communication with damaging assumptions, leaving us susceptible to misread somebody’s message.

There are occasions, nonetheless, when real-time communication isn’t an choice, particularly for absolutely distant firms with folks unfold all internationally. In that case, think about using a instrument like Loom to offer your suggestions, or you can even document an audio message in your cellphone and add that. In doing so, you continue to retain your tone and provides them some physique language to work off of.

Failing that, you’ll must work a bit more durable to make sure issues are taken properly. Remember, you’re shedding numerous constancy right here, so that you’ll must compensate. Here are two of the perfect ideas:

  1. Be very clear together with your language.
    Humans’ brains prefer to fill within the gaps with damaging assumptions.
  2. Use emoji. 😊
    Because our brains understand emoji in the identical approach that it does an actual human’s response. Don’t overuse them, however know they’re a useful instrument if folks can’t see your actual face.

Ask For (And Give) Actionable Feedback On Specific Areas

When we begin initiatives, we set up targets and objectives we wish to obtain. Feedback periods have precisely the identical wants. So, once you collect folks for suggestions, be particular. Here’s a useful information:

Don’t ask:

  • What do you assume?
  • Thoughts?

Do ask:

  • I’d like suggestions on the grid system, and significantly on the next parts of…
  • This technically passes our distinction guideline assessments, however it feels considerably flawed. What do you assume?

We typically mistake a shopper’s, a supervisor’s, or a stakeholder’s want to contribute to your dialogue for route. But it’s not at all times so — typically, these folks simply wish to show you how to resolve the consumer expertise or consumer interface design issues.

I’ve discovered Asana’s technique to be significantly useful right here — you’ll want to bucket the suggestions into three buckets: do, strive, and think about.

“A while back at Asana we noticed teams were laser-focused on shipping and would carefully ask if each piece of feedback was “launch blocking” at our launch opinions. Often non-blocking suggestions could be brushed apart even when it was comparatively low cost and would actually enhance the standard of the product. We mirrored on what was occurring and realized that we didn’t have clear language or norms on give or reply to suggestions. And so, the Do, Try, Consider framework was born.”

— “Do, Try, Consider — How we give product feedback at Asana” by Jackie Bavaro

An illustration explaining the Do, Try, Consider framework, with examplesThe Do, Try, Consider framework. (Image supply: (Large preview)

When giving suggestions, you need to give the individual one thing to discover or strive. For instance, as an alternative of “Put the sign-up call to action here,” strive “What other layouts might help us achieve our goal?”

Every piece of suggestions must also be instantly associated to a purpose, whether or not that’s the design being on-brand, responding to somebody’s suggestions, and so forth. And for those who aren’t seeing a option to be extra particular, think about asking the opposite individual to ask what particular kind of suggestions they’re in search of.

Here’s how a suggestions session may work:

Invite folks to have a number of minutes of quiet ideation, including sticky notes to a digital board. Once the solo time expires, group the same sticky notes after which focus on every group individually, bucketing them accordingly.

Here’s a bit template that I made:

A feedback template that’s based off Asana’s 'Do, Try, Consider' frameworkA suggestions template that’s primarily based off Asana’s ‘Do, Try, Consider’ framework. (Large preview)

And right here’s how this might appear to be in motion:

Person A: “Hey Person B, here’s the latest prototype. I’d like to get feedback on the navigation structure for this app because I’m feeling a little tension with where the account settings are currently located. I’m also not sure about whether or not this design iteration is fully in line with the new brand look that we’re rolling out next quarter.”

Person B: “The account settings should definitely be not so front-and-center, I think we have to put them under ‘Profile’ to match the website UX. Also, I expected to see the buttons in our brand’s shade of blue and not the shade that you have used. Can we change the color?”

Person A: “Okay, let’s talk about the blue first. We didn’t have a matching shade that was also accessible (not enough color contrast), so I made a new one that was. Is this comment a must-do, try, or consider? Also, it sounds like repositioning the account settings is a must-do, is that right?”

Be Kind

Before we continue, let’s discuss what I mean by being kind. I don’t mean that you should go around giving empty compliments to people or avoiding telling them things that aren’t quite right — both of these are ultimately harmful. What I intend by saying “be kind” is that you are direct with the other person. You have hard, direct conversations because you care. That’s true kindness. (And of course, be polite.)

More people need to learn that a polite suggestion as feedback is far more likely to get action than a snarky or unprofessional comment. And don’t insult the people you’re giving feedback to. We’re all human.

— Tim Misiak (@timmisiak) March 11, 2022

How you frame the feedback has a direct influence on how it will be received. For example, which do you think is the better type of feedback?

  • “This blue is lame. Just not digging it, man.”
  • “This blue isn’t in line with our brand guidelines. Good thinking on the accessibility angle, though. You should chat with marketing to make sure that we use the right color shade, and at the same time, we have enough color contrast to keep this UI element accessible.”

I hope you chose the second option. 😄

When It Goes Sideways, Refocus

Despite our best efforts, conversations will still go sideways sometimes. Here, we’ll discuss the best way to perform some conversational “first aid” when things feel a little dicey. Enter what I call refocusing statements.

A refocusing statement is a statement that addresses the misinterpretation, reestablishes focus on your goal, and asks open-ended questions to ensure clarity.

Here’s what they look like:

  1. What you aren’t saying (the misunderstanding or misrepresentation).
  2. What you are saying (your personal or shared goal).
  3. An open-ended question that puts the conversation back in their court.

Here are a few refocusing statements in action:

“I don’t intend to imply you’re not a skillful enough designer, I’m saying that this isn’t up to our team’s standards. We can &mdash, and we want — to help you get there though.”

“I’m not saying you have to do it my way. I know that you’ve got a lot more expertise in designing interfaces than I do. I just wanted to say that we need to consult with one another before sending the prototypes to the stakeholders because I’m responsible for doing the accessibility audits and don’t want any unnecessary back and forth to happen.”

“It’s not that you aren’t welcome to contribute to the user interviews or you aren’t a part of our team, your expertise in this is essential. Rather I would say that the type of questions you asked could taint our user research. Can we talk about how to reframe those questions?”

By framing the statements like in these examples, we actively address someone’s humanity and experience, and at the same time, we shift the conversation in a way that overcomes the objection or misunderstanding.

Note: Please, avoid ending these with “does this make sense?” These non-questions only serve to open the door for condescension.

And of course, give credit where credit is due — the inspiration for the refocusing technique came from Crucial Learning’s excellent “contrasting statement”, but I shaped it further to better fit my own practice.


In closing, let’s briefly recap some of the key points that I made in the article:

  • Society evolved quickly over the last few millennia, but our brains still “lag behind”, so we need to adopt a few new techniques to make giving and receiving feedback easier.
  • If we can build and kindle psychological safety with our peers, giving feedback will be a much more effective process.
  • We build psychological safety in part by having a high fidelity conversation — a conversation in which all participants have access to the full range of human communication, including tone of voice as well as non-verbal cues, such as body language and tone. (And if you cannot have a high fidelity conversation, then you’ll need to work a little harder to ensure things are taken well when communicating your feedback using text alone — remember to be very clear with your language and do use emoji.)
  • Ask for (and give) feedback that’s actionable and specific. Use Asana’s methods to bucket the feedback into three separate “buckets”: do, try, and consider.
  • Be kind. How you frame the feedback has a direct influence on how it’s received.
  • When it goes sideways, try using a refocusing statement — a statement which addresses the misinterpretation, reestablishes focus on your goal, and asks open-ended questions to ensure clarity.

Smashing Editorial
(mb, vf, yk, il)

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