Sharing peer feedback is the path to better communication skills, accelerated professional growth and a work culture built on respect. However, providing feedback to peers can be an intimidating idea. It's easy to imagine ruffled feathers and awkward conversations; and yet, all parties stand to benefit from peer-to-peer feedback.

After all, you and your colleagues share the same goals and problems – that makes you and the rest of your team a valuable resource to one another. So, understand that the professionals you work with want, and benefit from, effective feedback from their peers.

With that said, feedback must be carefully thought out. It needs to provide the other person clear goals and empower them. So, make sure that you prepare ahead before approaching a colleague with feedback. Keep these tips in mind and you'll be serving out feedback like a pro!

Providing effective peer feedback

Whether you're providing feedback through a peer review (or peer assessment) initiative or simply want to give colleagues constructive feedback, there are a few best practices to consider. Here are four tips to help you hone your communication skills and offer meaningful feedback.

1. Seek to understand, first

To point someone in the right direction, you need to first understand where they are to begin with. Otherwise, you'll both feel lost and frustrated when the conversation isn't leading to useful feedback.

So, ask questions to figure out the reasons why someone might be making a mistake or behaving in a certain way. That way, you can tailor the feedback to their understanding and get on the same page.

Besides identifying the problem, you'll find that active listening will empower the other person to act. Even if you both have different opinions, the effort to understand will be appreciated and lower the guard of the other person. Thus, they'll be more open to hear out the points you have to make.

Employing empathy allows the conversation to become a two-way street where both parties can work together to find a solution, exchange valuable insight and build a working relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

2. Keep it concise

While you'll want to lead with a positive tone, it's important to be direct with your colleagues. The receiving person needs clarity to address the issue and improve. Don't dance around the issue. Instead, ensure the conversation highlights a specific goal, which will help guide the conversation.

Show your colleague respect by trusting them to receive your feedback in good faith. Yes, hearing constructive criticism can be difficult, but that difficulty only worsens if your feedback is too vague or jumbled to understand. So, stay focused on the shared goal for improvement.

You might be tempted to use the "feedback sandwich," which is a passive approach to constructive criticism. This is when you lead with a compliment, give the critique, and then end with another compliment. This might make the other person feel too reassured or confused to act. Such mixed messaging can later lead to uncertainty and, at the end of the day, unchanged behavior.

So, keep it simple and clean. And maybe save your compliment for after a solution's reached.

3. Remove the charge

Providing constructive feedback to peers is often associated with having a difficult conversation. However, the purpose of feedback is to benefit the other person and the business. The best approach is to focus on solving the problem, while also empowering – not enabling – your peers.

It helps to think of yourself as working with the person to solve the problem, and to keep the person and problem separate. People are less likely to be defensive if the language used draws attention away from them, and towards the problem itself. In addition, using non-judgmental language and a passive voice, aids in avoiding any unhelpful putdowns that can distract the conversation.

The goal of your communication should be to empower a peer by giving them a helpful goal to work towards, along with advice and tools to help them in that mission. With that, offering suggestions go a long way in helping someone take the next step.

Express gratitude towards the person for taking the time to listen. You get what you give, and there's always room for more respect to be passed around.

4. Be prepared to answer "why"

As you're giving out feedback, it's crucial to underline the reasons behind any criticism, that way the value of your point is clear to the other person. The other person could find your feedback meaningless if they don't understand the purpose behind it, so make that part loud and clear.

You likely decided to give this person feedback because you understand they need it. So, why do they need it? An effective way to answer this is to point to your own experience. Your most reliable evidence will always be yourself and what you've been through. What experiences have you learned and grown from?

Sharing stories of success and failure is a great way to illustrate why your feedback matters and showcase your credibility. Moreover, it helps you to connect with your peers by sharing that you've also had to learn the same lessons, and you're passing on knowledge you know through experience will benefit them.

Everybody wins with constructive feedback

Remember, peer-to-peer feedback is meant to be rewarding, not punishing. No matter if you're sharing positive feedback or negative feedback, it's an exchange not only of valuable information, but also respect and trust. These meaningful conversations will lead to improved working relationships, collaborative learning, continuous professional development and a more constructive, empowering work environment for everyone involved.