You’re on Mute! Giving and Receiving Feedback. Virtually.

One of the many phrases we’ve grown to love and hate in the past 12 months is “you’re on mute”!

It’s happened to us all. You feel slightly embarrassed when you’re reminded, and then frustrated when you can’t unmute yourself quickly enough. Finally, you manage to get your camera working and you see the somber face of your team member, waiting patiently and nervously for their one-on-one meeting to begin.

As a leader, one of the most important parts of your job is to provide authentic, meaningful, frequent and actionable feedback. Regardless of who your employees are – whatever their generation, role, level, tenure, etc. – a fundamental need they all have is to know how they are doing.

Pre-pandemic, most of us had opportunities to connect and interact with and provide feedback to our team members on a regular and often impromptu basis. We took that for granted. Now, because of our “new normal,” many of us have not seen our team members in person for over a year. But the human need to know how you’re doing doesn’t disappear just because you’re not in the same room. In fact, the need has increased. Many teams feel isolated, disconnected, and they are anxious about so many things including their job performance.

So, what can you do as a leader to ensure the feedback you’re providing virtually is effective and motivating? How can you keep the connections you’ve cultivated and nurtured alive and positive through boxes on a screen? Here are some tips:

  • Use cameras – being able to see each other is the next best thing to being in-person.
  • Be empathetic – let them know that what’s going on around them (pets, family members, disarray) is of no consequence.
  • Do it from Paris – encourage the use of fun virtual backgrounds or consider providing a company-wide background that everyone can use.
  • Chitchat first – ask how they are doing and show a genuine interest in what’s going on for them, personally and professionally.
  • Watch body language (yours and theirs) – pay close attention to their nonverbal cues and make sure your body language is positive and welcoming.
  • Be present – turn off all notifications and stay focused and attentive, using your best active listening skills.
  • Silence is okay – “dead air” feels awkward, and our instinct is to fill it with chatter, but there are times when the quiet is okay. It provides opportunities for reflection and you can use the time to observe body language.
  • Keep it short – if you have several items to discuss, do it over a few shorter meetings instead of one long drawn-out ramble.
  • Do it often – book regular, short meetings in your calendars. Even if you have nothing substantial to talk about, regular 5-minute check-ins will help you stay connected to your team members.
  • Make it fun – not all feedback is serious (in fact, you should be providing just as much recognition as constructive criticism), so find ways to keep the conversation light and use appropriate humour.

In addition to the above, make sure you apply all of the other fundamental principles of effective feedback, including making sure feedback is:

  • Timely
  • Specific
  • Authentic
  • Actionable
  • Ongoing
  • Prepared
  • Two-way

So, turn on your camera, unmute yourself and give it a go!

Kwela’s Coaching for Performance course delves further into giving feedback, difficult conversations and more.

Helen Schneiderman, Partner