The Unwritten Rules of Giving Peer Feedback

by Kylee Stone Jan 7,2020

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

A lot of us are aware of feedback in the context of the manager-employee relationship. There’s also the occasional flip of the format, with employees being able to give feedback to their own managers.

However, what most of us are not aware of is that we can share feedback with your peers as well. But since this is not like the normal mode of sharing feedback (top-down or vice-versa) there are a few things you need to keep in mind when sharing feedback with your peers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving peer feedback. It’s just that you need to consider the optics of the situation when sharing feedback.

What’s your relationship with this peer?

The kind of relationship you share with your peers determines the kind of feedback you can share with them as well. If you and your peers are acquaintances at best who do not have a clear idea about the work that either of you does, it’s best to steer clear of trying to give them feedback. Your feedback is limited by the fact that you simply do not know their work well enough to comment on it. What you might perceive as lacking might actually have a purpose behind it. Sharing your feedback despite not actually knowing enough will lead you to put your foot in your mouth (and believe me, this is not the impression you want the rest of your peers to form).

Also Read: Drivers Of Employee Engagement[Infographic]

If you and your peer are frequent collaborators, it makes sense to share feedback with them, especially in the context of how it affects your work. Mind you, if you are going to share feedback about the way they work (and with regard to something that does not affect you) then you have to tread more carefully. Praise and good words are great, but when you have to share something potentially, it makes sense to raise the issue with your manager first. If you are senior to them, you might have the stature to share feedback with them, but it still makes sense to take the issue to your manager at first. With your manager’s go ahead, you could then share the feedback with them. 

What kind of feedback do you want to share?

The kind of feedback you want to share also counts when it comes to peer feedback. Positive feedback is always good (but if it comes off as condescending, that’s on you and is also not the point of feedback). It’s negative feedback that you’ve got to be a little more cautious about. When you share feedback with someone who is junior to you, just because you are a senior, it does not mean you can do away with the niceties of sharing feedback. Rather, it is on you to share feedback in a way that does not belittle but rather helps them. As the senior in the situation, you have a unique opportunity to turn this into a learning experience and thereby creating a positive loop. Remember, the way you treat them is the way they will probably go on to treat others. 

How should you frame your feedback?

Just because peer feedback is something that is shared between two people who are roughly on the same page, this does not mean that the general rules of feedback no longer apply. Rather, the rules of feedback always apply, no matter the situation. However, however you choose to frame your feedback, do not ever sandwich your feedback. By sandwiching, I mean, fitting one good comment in between two bad ones simply so that you can soften the blow.

Also Read: OKRs: How To Set Winning Objectives And Key Results

Are you prepared for pushback?

Sharing feedback is one thing, but receiving it is a completely different thing. Your peers aren’t obligated to receive the feedback you share with them simply because this is a relationship of equals. In the other feedback equations, there is a power dynamic that exists and we assume that a manager who shares feedback with one of their employees is generally doing so out of genuine concern for their performance. Additionally, they are also absolutely qualified to give feedback by virtue of being a manager

The same parameters do not exist for peers. If your peer chooses not to listen to your feedback, it does not mean they are in the wrong and neither should you assume. If they pushback based on the feedback they have received, it is up to you to make peace with the fact that maybe you were wrong about something or had forgotten to consider a certain perspective that would have illuminated the situation much better for you. 

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Kylee Stone

Kylee Stone supports the professional services team as a CX intern and psychology SME. She leverages her innate creativity with extensive background in psychology to support client experience and organizational functions. Kylee is completing her master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational psychology at the University of Missouri Science and Technology emphasizing in Applied workplace psychology and Statistical Methods.

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