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Giving Healthy Feedback to my Remote Team: A Physician’s Dilemma

Developing a strong and healthy relationship with your remote team must include giving and receiving constructive feedback. Compliment sandwiches is the sweet common term used to refer to the manner of giving feedback to your remote team where feedback is sequenced into praise-critique-praise placement.

At first it may work, but as your relationship with your Virtual Filipino Practice Assistant (VFPA) continues, the effectiveness of this practice may leave out a few crucial components of better communication between you two. The best way to influence your VFPA’s work is through well-timed, organized, expertly worded feedback—the kind that gets you what you want while motivating them to do even better in the future. But the challenge is, due to the remote work setup, it’s hard to know how to give good feedback. Good feedback will only encourage your remote staff to deliver the best output they can give. Many employers, not just physicians or providers, worry about giving feedback remotely while ensuring the message is received clearly, and preferably without coming across as a jerk. Because all you want to do is promote good working relationships while getting the results you need.

Here are some tips that we have used throughout the years (of course, you are free to adjust and modify this according to what works best for your practice) on how you can provide feedback to your VFPA’s:

First, let’s identify the 3 different types of feedback:

Positive Feedback

This is the kind of feedback you give to your team that highlights what they did well. It is a form of encouragement that’s useful in boosting confidence and motivating them to keep up the good work. Regardless of the nationality of the members of your team, positive feedback is always a good point to grow the relationship between you and your team members.

Negative Feedback

This feedback brings to the table what your VFPA did wrong or came short of your expectations. They sometimes call this ‘bad feedback’. Remember to be clear this is provided for them to improve and correct mistakes or shortcomings. In delivering negative feedback, it’s important to be clear, concise, and objective.

See this suggested ways to give negative feedback.

Constructive Feedback

This is a mix of positive and negative feedback. It starts with something your virtual assistant did well, followed by an area of improvement. For instance, you may say, “You did a great job on this project, but next time I’d like to see you take more initiative.”

What Makes Feedback Effective?

All of us, at least at a certain point in our lives, become a receiver of feedback and we know it isn’t always predictable and according to the intended purpose. There’s a bigger chance that once it’s received, it may not generate the effect as expected. Here are ways to communicate feedback effectively:

Be Constructive

Remember that if the goal of feedback is to help your team improve, then it should be constructive. This means you should pay close attention to what your VFPA can do differently or better in the future, rather than dwelling on their past mistakes.

Be Timely

The time element should always be considered when you give feedback – the sooner, the better. The long wait may cause your team to forget what they did and they'll have a harder time implementing your suggestions.

Be Specific & Objective

Broad, general comments can be confusing and difficult to act on, whereas specific, data-driven feedback can help your managers and team members understand what they need to work on and give them a tangible goal to strive for. Also avoiding biases and personal opinion clarifies the message attached to the feedback. This makes things easier to understand and avoids unnecessary interpretations.

Avoid the Concept of Criticism

When giving feedback, avoid criticism. Instead, focus more on the person’s character rather than the behavior. Using negative words that attack the person’s character becomes personal and may be taken in the wrong context. With this, the purpose of giving feedback will automatically be defeated.

Avoid Compliments

This is on point when giving positive feedback. The proper distinction between giving positive feedback and compliment is important because the message you need to express should be as truthful as possible. If your team feels you aren’t being truthful about what you are saying, it will be difficult for you to communicate with them next time or in the near future.

Be Future-Focused

When giving feedback, try to include the following: Next time; moving forward and the likes.

Do not use the Word “I” or Me”

Whenever possible, avoid using the words I or me when giving feedback. Try to use inclusive words such as us and we. This can put your team at ease knowing you are with them on this.

Know that Feedback Applies to You as Well

Before giving feedback to someone else, it's a good idea to seek feedback yourself. This will help you understand how the person receiving the feedback might feel, and it will also give you some practice in giving feedback.

How Do I Deliver Virtual Feedback?

If you’ve ever misunderstood an email communication or had one of your own misunderstood, you will know that giving feedback to a team member in a virtual world can be fraught with potential pitfalls. In fact, all three types of feedback should not be given by email or text all the time. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, it’s clear that tonal nuance is lacking in written communication.

For example, if someone were to say, “You need to learn how to…” in person, there’s a chance that it may be accepted with a neutral tone, or seen as friendly and encouraging. When you read that as a typed sentence though, it appears to have quite a critical sting. You may ask why is this so.

Our brains tend to have a “negativity bias” which keeps us highly attuned to unpleasant news. This is thought to be due to our primitive need to protect ourselves from danger. Our tendency to remember the one bad thing that happened above several good things is a demonstration of this.

The lesson? We are hyper-sensitive to feedback, and a written message, no matter how innocuously intended, can put us on high alert. Before you know it, the situation has blown up, and someone thinks they’re on their last warning! In saying that, if you only reserve phone or video calls for “bad” things, your remote team may view your request for a meeting with a sense of doom. Our suggestion here is that phone or video calls be regularly used for positive virtual feedback and general work conversations, not just constructive criticism.

 

Additionally, when you’re giving feedback over video calls, it’s important to maintain eye contact with the person you’re speaking to. Of course, this can be a little tricky, since you’re not actually in the same room. But there are a few simple tricks that can help:

 

  • Try to position your camera so that it’s at eye level. This will help create the illusion of eye contact.
  • Make sure to look directly into the camera when you’re speaking.
  • Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions and gestures to emphasize your point.

 

By following these simple tips, you’ll be able to give feedback in a virtual world that feels just as natural and personal as if you were right there in the room with the person you’re speaking to.

How Often Should I Give Virtual Feedback?

It’s hard to tell because there’s really no right or wrong answer here, but surely to get better results quickly is by creating a feedback culture. It means the idea of a virtual feedback conversation is ingrained—it is expected, and team members generally don’t feel nervous about it. Provide timely feedback so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. If you’re worried that you have too many things to give feedback on at once, perhaps pick out those that are the most crucial first. Consider what you’re really trying to achieve and what the key points are for getting there. You can always update your process documentation to cover more minor items as well.

Can I Follow Up on Feedback I Gave to my Team?

Yes, of course. A key part of delivering critical virtual feedback effectively is to ensure that it is taken onboard, with some process or form of follow-up at a specified period of time. This is not to suggest that you become a “helicopter” boss. Developing two-way communication and promoting accountability is always a good starting point.

 

By encouraging your remote team members to share ideas and giving them the opportunity to provide feedback as well, you can create a workplace that nurtures growth and support. Furthermore, a feedback culture can help to identify problems early on and prevent them from becoming bigger issues.

Summary

As a final thought, providing feedback goes hand-in-hand with having team members in your practice. Your remote team is there to help navigate the critical tasks and remote work for you, your practice, and your business. And chances are, they may need some critical feedback from you at some point.

 

Know your team first and understand what might make constructive feedback more effective for them. Sometimes, there may be cultural nuances that are worth understanding before starting with a very direct response. Avoid simply “reacting” to circumstances. Take a pause and consider your approach so that you are able to keep it professional. Developing an understanding and a company culture that embraces virtual feedback can help build trust in your workplace and help you establish a more meaningful connection with your virtual or remote team members.

 

Additionally, by setting expectations and providing specific, actionable feedback, practitioners, business owners and managers can help their teams become more efficient.

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