Employee Feedback

How to use feedback to be a better coworker

August 15, 2019
November 7, 2023
Sulagna Misra
Lattice Team

Actively working on your coworker relationships can benefit your overall company culture and make a big difference in both your coworker’s career and your own. Feedback is a great way to do this. It’s a smart way to maintain a good relationship with your coworker — and even improve a less-than-great one. The key is to be intentional.

But giving and receiving feedback is a skill, and there’s an art to giving feedback to a coworker that’s different from giving or asking for feedback from a manager. Here’s a quick guide to doing coworker feedback right

Start with small feedback for big results

There are small, subtle ways to give feedback that can make a huge difference to your relationships with your coworkers. They’re low stakes but highly effective. This kind of feedback is in little actions and discussions, like:

  • Saying thank you when your coworker does something helpful and kind
  • Returning emails on time
  • Giving someone your undivided attention during a meeting
  • Asking people to get lunch
  • Setting up 1:1s so you get established coworker time
  • Rescheduling meetings and 1:1s if you’re the one to cancel them
  • Respecting that your coworker’s work is just as important and vital to the company as yours 
  • Asking for advice or background on something the coworker did well
  • Giving praise

These actions may seem insignificant, but it’s been proven that it’s the little things that foster long-term trust and community. Professors Gibson and Schinoff noticed this phenomenon across their almost decade-long work of studying work relationships. They call them “micromoves”:

If you look closely, you’ll see that coworker relationships are actually made up of a series of “micromoves” — small actions or behaviors that seem inconsequential in the moment but affect how we relate to one another. Micromoves are like the steps that characterize a dance. You take a step, and then your coworker takes a step. Each step, or micromove, can change the direction of the relationship. A small act of gratitude or compassion — like saying “thank you” when someone holds a door open or being understanding when someone is late for a meeting — can bring people together and help build long-term trust, researchers suggest. 

Meanwhile, thoughtless gestures, such as not doing the above — not saying thank you, not answering an email quickly, being dismissive of a coworker’s time or work, and so on — can be extremely damaging to the coworker relationship. It can take up to six positive micromoves to make up for it. 

One way to deal with thoughtless gestures is to address them. This can feel nerve-wracking, and it’s often tempting to devolve into gossip or talking about your coworker’s actions to someone else instead of approaching them directly. This is a pretty natural response, but neither you nor your coworker will benefit from it. Instead, it’s better to approach this head-on. Part of being a good coworker is working well with each other, and doing that requires trust and honesty.

If you’re frustrated with a coworker, think about the situation from their perspective. Do you think they’re being purposefully unfair, or are they simply distracted? Is there a way you might unintentionally contributing to the situation? Don’t let a small misunderstanding get worse. Assume the best and talk to your coworker directly about what’s bothering you. 

Instead, be honest in your feedback:

  • Say “no” to work you can’t or shouldn’t take on
  • Push back firmly when people are rude, inappropriate, or unkind
  • Discuss processes that aren’t working
  • Establish better communication
  • Ask about lack of communication

For more information, including scripts and scenarios, check out this article on giving a coworker feedback without sounding like a jerk

Using a performance management system like Lattice for coworker feedback

Giving your coworkers public praise

Public praise — that is, praise that everyone in the company can see — has been shown to improve morale and encourage a culture of camaraderie and hard work. For your coworkers, the best time to give public praise is for work other people don’t see. This can be when you notice a project, do the unglamourous grunt work that gets project done, or giving advice or providing their expertise on a project you’re working on. It’s the behind the scenes work that only you see but the whole company benefits from. 

Sharing this information demonstrates that you care not just for your coworker’s help but also their career at the company. For example, if your coworker trained you on software they’re familiar with, or if they connected you with someone who helped you finish a project. This is the kind of praise that a coworker can point to when discussing skills or work they’ve done that their manager or higher-ups might not see. 

If your company encourages public praise through a software like Lattice, giving praise publicly is also a way to encourage kindness and generosity from colleagues across a company. By praising a coworker for their unseen, unglamourous work, the rest of the company understands that this kind of work is deeply valued.

A few good scripts for public praise:

  1. Thanks to X for doing Y to help me with Z project. [Provide some context on Z project and its importance to the company.]
  2. I’m sure Project XYZ must’ve taken a lot of work. [Add some context into what you saw coworker doing for the project.] You did a great job on it!
  3. A’s pattern of doing X has been really helpful for me and the team. [Name a few instances where this quality was helpful.]

For more advice, check out this article on praise and public praise

Giving coworkers private feedback

When public praise is something your coworker may not personally enjoy, give private feedback, especially if the feedback is less obviously praise or if the feedback is about work or a situation that people might not understand at the whole company. The most important aspect of private feedback is that both your coworker and their manager see the feedback. 

The scripts for private feedback can be similar to public praise, but you probably don’t have to give as much context.

Coworkers and peer reviews in a 360-degree performance review cycle

Giving feedback through a performance management system is great for performance reviews, because you’ll have a lot of notes on the ways you and your coworker have helped each other.

But if you haven’t established a strong culture of feedback at your company — or you simply haven’t been able to give your coworker that much feedback since your last performance review — try this: take notes and journal about the ways that your coworker has helped you. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What projects did you work on together?
  • What did you work on that you needed their help on?
  • How did you support them and how did they support you?
  • What patterns have you noticed in their work?
  • What do you wish they did differently?
  • What do they do that you wish all your coworkers would do?

For more advice, check out this article on peer reviews and other reviews in a 360-degree performance review.

When to talk to your manager

Sometimes, a problem with a coworker is confusing, frustrating, and feels unmanageable or unfair. Those feelings means it’s time to check in with your manager. Your manager can give you context on how to approach the problem, and may also be able to pass on your feedback to that coworker’s manager. And when things feel unfair — for example, when a coworker seems to get special treatment for no discernable reason, like leaving early or working from home more — you should approach your manager about that first, rather than talking to your coworker. Your manager might already have a lot more context on the situation.

Above all, be intentional.

Work on your work relationships — not just when you’re trying to establish friendships, but overall. Remember the power of micromoves, the little acts of kindness that build trust, and the little acts of indifference/thoughtlessness that can destroy trust.

Ask your coworkers about their lives, and check in with them. It can make a huge difference in your relationship. This practice encourages a sense of belonging across the company, which encourages better productivity and work ethic. And lastly, don’t be afraid to be kind — your coworkers will thank you.