How to Give Productive, Respectful Peer-to-Peer Feedback

Author: Zenresume Editorial Team
Updated on March 05, 2021

How often do you think this about your coworkers:

John should really do better at X or I wish Sally stopped doing Y?


How often do you voice such observations?

If you’re like most people, you probably think about advice for your coworkers far more often than you share it.

Giving workplace feedback can be an uncomfortable experience—especially when it’s directed at our peers. 

Even in my own company, Transizion, peer-to-peer feedback isn’t always easy—although we have a transparent and open feedback culture. We not only allow but actively encourage constructive criticism. 

As long as you respect your team members, we want feedback on our company practices. 

We don’t want to seem like judgmental know-it-alls, and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We would prefer not to be that coworker.

On the other hand, we do want to learn, grow, and solve problems as a team. And any team is only as strong as its players.

Importance of Peer Feedback

Feedback is vital to improvement in the workplace. It helps identify strengths and weaknesses, create opportunities for growth, and even improve communication and understanding. 

Though often overlooked, peer-to-peer feedback can be especially valuable. 

Coworkers interact and collaborate on a daily basis. In most cases, you have a clearer view of your coworker’s strengths and weaknesses (and vice versa) than a manager or executive.

Managers and executives often see only the output. You and your peers see everything that goes into creating it. 

Additionally, open and honest communication fosters a collaborative spirit that naturally improves team performance.

According to Gartner, high-quality peer feedback can boost employee performance by up to 14%. That’s a significant leap, and you don’t want to miss out because of discomfort.

So, how can you get past the awkwardness and provide productive input to your peers?

How to Give Productive, Respectful Feedback to Peers

Feedback doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. It can be compassionate, helpful, and performance-enhancing.

Use the six tips below to transform your observations into useful, well-received feedback.

1. Establish Trust

Want to give peer-to-peer feedback that produces results? Then it’s essential to establish a positive, trusting relationship with your coworkers.

A recent Harvard study indicates that negative peer-to-peer feedback rarely leads to improvement. People who received corrective feedback from coworkers simply began avoiding their well-meaning peers. Instead, they chose to focus on relationships with more self-affirming coworkers.

This phenomenon is called “shopping for confirmation.” So, does that mean we should give up on constructive criticism altogether?

Not at all. The researchers found one notable exception: Peer-to-peer feedback works when the recipient feels valued by the giver.

People do want to improve, but they also want to feel valued. We must consider both in order to give effective feedback.

Build a comfortable, trusting relationship with your coworkers by:

  • Regularly recognizing their positive contributions
  • Giving them credit publicly
  • Being considerate- asking about their weekend, their children, their upcoming holiday plans, etc. 
  • Asking for their advice/opinion
  • Smiling, making eye contact, greeting them by name

Once your coworkers feel that you value them, they’ll be much more receptive to your feedback. 

2. Be Specific

Provide specific information and examples when giving feedback. Telling someone that their work needs improvement is unhelpful and frustrating. It offers no guidance, only criticism. 

Concrete details, on the other hand, are actionable and useful. Instead of saying a presentation wasn’t informative enough, pinpoint what information was missing. 

Rather than telling your coworker that her emails are confusing, show her an email that confused you and explain why it was unclear. What could she do to make her message clearer?

I mean, what would you rather hear?

“Hey, your report was inaccurate,” or “The page 4 chart about Q1 sales in New Jersey lacked data from the first two weeks of January?”

And the same holds true for positive feedback! Don’t just tell your coworkers, “Good job!” What was good? Drawing attention to the positive ensures more of it in the future.

3. Be Timely

Offer feedback immediately, or as close to immediately as possible. The project or task should be fresh in both of your minds, so the conversation is actionable and relevant.

(No, I don’t mean interrupting someone’s presentation to take issue with it.) But waiting days or weeks to provide feedback diminishes its power. 

Have the conversation while challenges, pain points, processes, and ideas for the future are still top of mind. 

4. Be Positive

You’ve probably heard of the “compliment sandwich.” 

The basic idea is starting and ending the conversation with positive feedback, sandwiching the criticism in between.

Here’s the problem: most people are aware of this strategy, and it often feels condescending. So, go ahead and throw that sandwich in the trash.

Sneaky sandwiches aside, it’s still important to be positive. Feedback that feels overly critical or attacking will be defended against rather than received and implemented. 

To incorporate positivity, try the following:

  • Dive straight into the constructive criticism, but keep it future-focused. Your intention is not to criticize or dwell on mistakes, but to encourage growth and improvement.
  • Weave positive comments into the discussion throughout.
  • Follow up the feedback by discussing how their strengths can be used to solve the problem.

People tend to focus on and remember criticism, but they respond to praise. Effective feedback must incorporate both elements.

5. Use Passive Voice

Wait, do use passive voice?! 

Don’t worry, your English teachers will forgive you. In this case, passive voice has a positive purpose. 

Passive voice helps you give feedback that’s helpful and actionable without feeling too personal. 

Consider the difference between these two statements:

  • “You didn’t include enough data in that presentation.”
  • “The presentation would be more convincing if it included more data.”

Both statements communicate the same idea: the presentation needs more data. But the first statement focuses on the individual, while the second focuses on the subject.

The second approach is more productive. Your peer is less likely to be defensive, and more likely to actually consider and use your feedback.

6. Receive Feedback

Naturally, your coworkers won’t be receptive to your feedback if you aren’t receptive to theirs. Cultivate the belief that feedback helps you grow, enhancing your abilities and your career trajectory.

When others give you advice or input, don’t take offense. Show appreciation, and even openly solicit feedback from your peers. Listen to what your peers have to say, then put their advice into action.

Your coworkers will learn that you view feedback as a positive and have only positive intentions when offering it. 

Ultimately, you’ll help create a culture of feedback that fosters collaboration and drives continuous improvement.

So, what do you think?

How do you feel about receiving feedback from your peers? 

What are your tips for giving constructive criticism to coworkers?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!



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