Here are 5 practices for giving feedback remotely that help encourage behavior change even at a distance.

“Lost in translation” only begins to describe the perils of giving feedback remotely. How do you tell someone that their tone needs to improve, without your own tone offending them and hindering the likelihood that they’ll want to improve? How do you give corrective feedback to a brand new employee, when the only interaction you’ve had so far is via Zoom one-on-one meetings?

Giving feedback remotely is tough. It’s hard enough telling a coworker something they don’t want to hear without it being through a screen.

Yet, the reality is, with most of us working remotely these days, giving feedback remotely is a critical skill that our teams depend on us for. How else will our team members know what could be better in their performance and the state of progress they’re making if we as leaders do not tell them?

To do this, I’m sharing 5 best practices for giving feedback remotely in a way that is constructive, honest, and encourages a real change in behavior…

#1: Uncover your team’s communication preferences and style.

Everyone has communication preferences. Some detest the slightest shadow of conflict. Others love a vigorous debate. Some prefer written feedback because it allows them to digest the feedback in a more rigorous way. Others prefer the feedback is delivered face-to-face via video because they want to register the body language of the other person.

The key insight is to never assume that merely because you prefer to give feedback in a certain way, that your direct report necessarily prefers to receive the feedback that way as well.

To account for this, here are four questions you can ask to understand your team’s preferences around feedback and communication:

These questions were pulled from our Work Preferences Survey in our Icebreakers feature in Know Your Team. If you’re keen to ask these work preferences questions (and more) automatically in your team, you’ll want to check out our Work Preferences Survey in our Icebreakers feature in KYT.

#2: Make what’s obvious to you obvious to your team.

With only our words to convey tone or intent in a remote environment, it’s imperative that we try to be as clear as we can in our feedback. You must make what is obvious to you obvious to your team member.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a manager who’ll say to me, “I thought I made it clear that they needed to improve their performance… But when their performance review time came around, they were surprised to hear they were performing poorly.” Don’t let this manager be you. Your direct report suffers more pain when they are blindsided later down the line than when they are given corrective feedback in the moment at the time of the original underperformance.

Being explicit in your feedback is harder than it sounds. When you’re in the conversation, staring into your coworker’s eyes on the screen, you might find yourself smudging your words and lightening the gravity of the feedback you’re trying to give. But remember: The blurred edges of your feedback will only confuse and mislead your direct report.

To ensure your feedback is clear and explicit, here are some phrases you can try using in your next one-on-one meeting: