Feedback to a coworker 3 hardest things to give feedback to a coworker on

Giving constructive feedback helps you and your coworkers work together better, but it is not always easy, especially when it is about something that feels difficult.

Between coworkers, good feedback can make the experience of work more enjoyable

So here’s examples of how to give feedback to coworkers on 3 hard things:
  • when your coworker smells bad
  • when your coworker acts like they are your boss, and 
  • when your coworker is too passive-aggressive 

It may feel difficult, but when you experience behaviours like this at work you need to talk to your coworker about it, and give them some feedback.

Respectful, timely feedback is a driver of growth and collaboration. Between coworkers, good feedback can make the experience of work more enjoyable, and helps you all work together better.

When giving feedback in person or writing it in a 360 review, you may be concerned about how honest you can be without making the issue worse, but the important thing is to call it out - it doesn’t help anyone if you beat around the bush or hide what it’s really like to be working with them. 

Your coworker may not realise the impact it’s having, and hearing the feedback might be enough to change their behaviour on its own.  At the very least it offers an opportunity to have a conversation to get to the bottom of it. 

Not sure how to give difficult feedback?

Here are four principles for giving feedback to your coworkers with examples to help you - once you learn how to do it, it will be much easier in future so follow the same approach for conversations with colleagues and for 360 feedback reviews:

  1. Focus on the behaviour: be explicit about what your colleague did and how they did it. Don’t make it personal.
  2. Explain the impact: what effect your coworker’s behaviour is having on you, on how you feel, and on the work.
  3. Speak for yourself and not for others
  4. Suggest a solution and be open to talk about it. The behaviour may be annoying but there might be good reasons for it. 

Examples of the 3 hardest things to feedback to a coworker on:

1. One of my colleagues smells bad

How do you tell someone they smell bad? This might not sound serious, but it is a sensitive issue and many of us find talking with a colleague about the way they smell really awkward and difficult.

In a previous career, one of my coworkers had really strong body odour. Several people complained about it to our manager, Bill.

Bill went out and bought a big can of deodorant, called my coworker in to his office, sat them down and said, “Look, there's no easy way to say this, but you really smell at the moment, so I bought you a can of deodorant and I want you to use it.”

The young man in question said, “Oh, okay.” He started using the deodorant and the problem was solved. 

Such a forthright and blunt course of action is not often appropriate. A young man in his 20s might take it well, but someone else may not. 

So here’s what to do:

  • Ask your organisation to make it easy for people by having toiletries readily available - for example putting toothpaste, deodorant, and breath mints in the toilets.
  • If you need to have the conversation, do it in private.
  • And do it sensitively, because there may be other things going on.

2. My coworker thinks they are my boss

There's all kinds of reasons for this. 

Sometimes in a team it's really ambiguous who is leading and somebody might decide to take it on themselves: maybe they’re more forthright, or they've been there longest, or maybe they're more extroverted. 

Perhaps your boss asked them to do it. Perhaps actually they’re unaware they are doing it.

If it’s bothering you, you need to find a way to bring it up. You might be afraid of potential conflict here, but that fear might be all in your head and may not be justified.

To get some clarity, try raising the issue in a non-confrontational way, using an ‘I Statement’ - a way to say something without being threatening ie say how you feel without blaming the other person. 

An example is to say something like, “John, when you set the agenda for meetings, then talk first, and ask me to report to you, I feel that I have no autonomy and that you're my boss - which you aren’t. I feel angry and I don’t want to feel that - could we find a way to communicate differently? It would be good if we could do X, Y, or Z.”

The I Statement frames it in a way that’s not blaming or aggressive, it’s about their behaviour and how you feel as a result: your feelings cannot be denied.

In this instance the X, Y or Z processes to put in place for how you do things going forward could include things such as democratising meetings or rotating the leadership of meetings. 

You could also do an exercise to clarify how you each see things: separately, you both write down what your roles are, what each of you thinks the other’s areas of responsibility are, and who you’re each accountable to. And then compare to see if they're similar. That will lead to a fruitful discussion and bring role clarity.

It’s also worth looking at the flipside: why are they behaving like that? Is there something about your own behaviour? Are they anxious that you are not managing your work effectively? Are you missing deadlines? Are you being too passive? 

In any case you won’t know until you have the conversation.

3. One of my coworkers is too passive-aggressive

Passive aggression sits on a broad spectrum: from badly judged banter to outright bullying and gaslighting. None of it is pleasant and no one should have to put up with it. 

There was a time when someone I know was behaving in a passive-aggressive way with a peer. He admitted to me that he was acting out of the frustration he was feeling about something the colleague was not doing. Rather than talk to them about it, he was bottling it up and being passive aggressive in the way he spoke to them. His colleague was hurt and confused and ended up treading on eggshells around him. A pretty difficult situation for both of them. 

In an ideal world he would have bitten back his unhelpful comments, sat down with his colleague and explained his concerns. He might not have got what he wanted but at least the issue would have been clear and weeks of painful interaction might have been avoided. 

Or if his colleague had come back and asked to have a word, maybe my friend might have felt able to talk about the issue and they could have found a way through it. 

Conclusion

You may have other difficult issues to feedback on, but if you follow the approaches to giving feedback shown above, you'll find thoughtful non-threatening ways to help you and your colleagues have better relationships, your team to do better together, and make your own experience of work a more pleasant and enjoyable one. 

To find out the hardest things to feedback on to your boss, and how to do it click here.

One way to make giving feedback easier is to run a 360 review. If you’re looking for good 360 review software that supports the growth of your employees and your organisation: have a look at tools like AdviceSheet.