January 7, 2019

Delivering Effective Constructive Feedback to Your Virtual Assistant

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is part of a healthy working relationship with your virtual assistant.

Consider a time when you’ve ever received constructive feedback at work. Was it received in-person, or via a remote means of communication? How did it come across to you? The thing that makes a remote work environment unique is that any such constructive feedback will almost always be communicated remotely.

Because of this, sometimes it’s hard to know how to give good feedback. 

constructive feedback

When you’ve received constructive criticism in-person before, you’ve had all sorts of cues to help you understand the context of the feedback. You’re able to see body language and tone and you can quickly ask clarifying questions. Usually, any kind of misunderstanding can be cleared up promptly.

Many people worry about how they’re going to provide feedback remotely while ensuring the message is received clearly, and preferably without coming across as a jerk! You want to promote good working relationships while getting the results you need. Here are some tips for giving that constructive feedback to a virtual assistant:

How often should you give feedback?

There’s really no right or wrong answer, but one thing that helps to get better results more quickly is by creating a company culture that is encouraging and accepting of feedback. This means that the idea of feedback is ingrained — it is expected and team members generally don’t feel nervous about it.

Constructive feedback should be timely so that it is fresh in the mind of the virtual assistant. 

constructive feedback

Saving up feedback until a quarterly review or something similar only stretches it out unnecessarily.

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.

How should constructive criticism be delivered?

If you’ve ever misunderstood an email communication or had one of your own misunderstood, you will know that delivering feedback can be fraught with potential pitfalls. In fact, there’s a strong suggestion that, like breaking up with someone via text message, constructive feedback should not be given by email or text.

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 cajoling. When you read that as a typed sentence though, it appears to have quite a critical sting.

Why is this? 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.

constructive feedback

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 chats over the phone or via video for “bad” things, your virtual assistant may view your request for a meeting with a sense of doom. Our suggestion here is that phone or video chat be regularly used for positive feedback and general work conversations, not just the constructive criticism.

What makes constructive criticism effective?

First, as with any other form of communication, know your audience! Depending on where your virtual assistant is located, sometimes cultural norms might fit into the picture too. For example, in some cultures, being very frank, direct, or abrasive will be seen as embarrassing to the virtual assistant. They might assume that you are angry with them and don’t value their work at all.

Of course, in other cultures, being very direct is expected. Virtual assistants in those places may prize frank feedback as a great way to improve their work.

In any case, remember that humans have that “negativity bias” and sometimes that can really drag people down. Giving positive feedback for the work they’re doing well can help to buffer the sting of criticism. 

constructive feedback

Some businesses actively use the “feedback sandwich” for this reason, although more recently it is argued that this is a flawed model.

If feedback is always about the “sandwich,” people start to mistrust the positive feedback; “oh here we go, what did I do wrong now?” It’s important to signal the good intent of any kind of feedback, and one way of doing this is to make a practice of offering positive feedback regularly anyway.

For any constructive feedback, you can also signal good intent. Say something along the lines of, “It’s important for me to point out areas that will help you to build your skills.” This is indicating a positive future to the virtual assistant rather than “you may be fired.”

Be very specific when you deliver feedback. Tell the person exactly what they need to do to improve and how it relates to business goals. Make the feedback helpful and actionable, and ensure that it is delivered professionally. Any kind of emotional response should be kept out of it. In fact, it’s always better to step away for a bit if you feel inclined to jump in with a reactive response. This helps to ensure that you don’t end up with unintended consequences (like a team member quitting).

constructive feedback

How should feedback be followed up?

A key part of delivering critical feedback effectively is to ensure that it is taken onboard, with some process or mechanism for following up afterwards.

This is not to suggest that you become a “helicopter” boss, in fact this is an ineffective use of both your and your virtual assistant’s time. If they’re constantly responding to status update requests, when are they getting actual work done?

One thing you can do is to invite two-way communication. 

Talk to your virtual assistant about what needs to happen and ask for their input on the best way to ensure it gets done. Whether this involves adding something to a procedure or getting a certain tool to help, getting their input helps with buy-in.

Check in with the virtual assistant once they’ve had a chance to correct whatever it was that you gave constructive feedback about. How did they manage the change? Is there anything else they need to make it happen?

Final Thoughts

Providing feedback goes hand-in-hand with having team members in your business. Your virtual assistant is there to help navigate the critical tasks of your business, but the chances are they may need some critical feedback at some point.

Know your audience first and understand what might make constructive feedback more effective for them. Sometimes there may be cultural nuances that are worth understanding before barrelling in with a very direct response.

In that same vein, avoid simply “reacting” to a situation. Take a breath and consider your approach so that you are able to keep it professional. Developing an understanding and a company culture that embraces feedback will take you a long way.

Have more questions about virtual assistants in general? Our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants can answer all of those and more. This guide is the only one on the internet that will break down everything you need to know about virtual assistants and how to leverage them to grow your business and get you out of overwhelm! 


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