Let’s talk about feedback conversations online. It’s challenging in person, even more so online.

But let me ask you first, Would you feel safer knowing people were honest with their feedback, or if they withheld opinion or obscured their truth? The answer seems pretty obvious yet our reactions don’t always match our intentions. It would be great if everyone took the attitude that Marcus Aurelius took, one of the great emperors of the Roman empire and Stoic Philosopher:

If anyone can refute me‚ show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective‚ I’ll gladly change.

It’s the truth I’m after.


Bar some companies like Bridgewater Associates that practice a truly radical feedback culture, for many of us such levels of transparency would be challenging…


Challenging yet essential, as without feedback we are (potentially) without awareness. Without awareness we are without choices, and therefore in a prison of our own ignorance.


The idea that we have not performed as well as we “should” have and, worse yet for some, that it was noticed, can trigger deep discomfort, often resulting in self-flagellation and/or avoidance (i.e. ignoring the feedback). The latter takes us nowhere, and the former takes us only so far before a breakdown or loss of motivation ensues.


Usually if this happens it’s because we are judging ourselves as ‘inferior’, ‘substandard’, ‘not enough’, or some modified version unique to us.


A critic doesn’t disturb you, it disturbs your ego. You want to know the truth. Your ego is scared of it.

Maxime Lagacé


We all have egos, so working on the relationship we have with ourselves can help a lot in being more open to feedback, but what if we want to help someone else do the same?


And what about the challenge of doing so online?


The added worry we might have about giving feedback online actually reveals something we know quite instinctively… It’s not just WHAT you say, it’s not just HOW you say it, it’s also how you RELATE to who speaks it.


The relationship you have built with the person matters, because when it comes to managing egos, there is a difference between being ‘attacked by an enemy’ or ‘supported to grow by a friend’. These reactions can be quite subtle and almost subconscious. It may not be obvious at the start how you are relating to the person.


When you are working online, you might have an underlying concern that it is harder to build the necessary relationship to be honest with each other. (Our Remote Working course could help here).


This doesn’t have to be the case, we can certainly find ways to build the necessary relationship (one of the elements of our Feedback Conversations course).


While you can’t change your whole relationship history immediately, you can change how you show up in the moment of feedback delivery. Your stories and expectations about the situation, in that very moment, can influence how receptive that person might be.


3 questions to help with feedback conversations online:


  1. What expectations do I have about the feedback I need to give? – It will be badly received, it will hurt their feelings, they will get defensive/aggressive, who am I to give them this feedback anyway? It will be awkward etc.
  2. How are these expectations getting in the way?
  3. What is a more empowering story I can have about the situation?


That is to say, what is a way to think about feedback giving that would make you more likely to deliver it and more likely to be received fully?


My personal favourite comes back to Marcus Aurelius:

At some point you have to recognise what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.


In other words, when we withhold feedback, we are taking away the receiver’s chance to face the ‘truth’ (or a version of it).


Giving feedback is a courageous act of helping someone expand their self-awareness. By offering them this information, we are increasing their choices, allowing them to step out of that prison of ignorance, and find freedom.


Now, wouldn’t that motivate you to serve feedback all day long?


If you’d like to explore some practical approaches to delivering that feedback online, why not join us on our half day Feedback Conversations online course?