Ruinous Empathy

In Person or Synchronous Feedback is Best — Here’s How to Deliver It

Giving feedback in person is one of the tenets of our HIP approach to Radically Candid feedback. Having real, human, in-person feedback conversations is important for two reasons:

  1. The clarity of your feedback gets measured not at your mouth, but at the other person’s ear. So if you can’t see the reaction, you won’t really know if the other person understood what you were saying. If you don’t know whether what you said was clear to the other person, you may as well not have said it.
  2. Most of communication is nonverbal. When you see a person’s body language and facial expression, you can adjust how you are delivering the message so they can best hear it. The best way to tell if the other person understands you clearly is to look into their eyes, notice if they are fidgeting, folding their arms, etc.

in person feedback

Why do people avoid in-person feedback?

Often, the reason people don’t deliver guidance in person is that it’s awkward. They are trying to avoid seeing the other person’s emotional reaction. They don’t want to deal with tears, yelling, scoffing, or any other negative reaction. This kind of avoidance moves bosses down on the Care Personally axis and lands their behavior in the Obnoxious Aggression or Manipulative Insincerity quadrants. Managers may think they are being “nice,” or moving up on the care personally axis, when they avoid another person’s emotions. But usually, they are more concerned with avoiding their own discomfort than the other person’s. If what you are going to say is likely to get an emotional reaction, stand and face the music, don’t lob it in like a grenade.

Don’t hide behind chat, email or other software to avoid

negative emotional reactions to feedback.

You can’t control another person’s emotional reaction, but that doesn’t mean you should try to avoid it. You’ve got to be present for these emotions. You can use them to better understand how your message landed, and to adjust. But don’t let the emotions knock you off your good intention to Challenge Directly.

Deliver praise in person

It’s just as important to give praise in person. It may seem like jotting your recognition down into an email or feedback system will save a lot of time, but it’s hard to make these messages convey your true sincerity. It also takes time to add the specifics needed to make it meaningful. It’s more effective and faster to give your praise in person.

Plus, you need to pay attention to nonverbal communication for praise, too. You might find that the person is surprised, confused, or skeptical about your praise. If you spot these emotions and ask questions, you could learn that you’re not praising the person enough, that you’re praising the wrong thing or the wrong person, or that you aren’t being specific enough with your praise. Learning these details will help you make your feedback more Radically Candid.

It’s not always possible

As important as giving feedback in person is, it’s not always possible. Maybe your team members are remote workers or located in another office. Maybe you or they are traveling to a conference or customer meeting.

Here are some things to consider when giving in-person feedback isn’t possible:

Immediate vs. in person

Sometimes being able to give feedback in person is a matter of waiting until you’re in the same place. If the person you have feedback for is in another city and you would have to wait more than a few days to see them in person, opt for immediate feedback rather than in person feedback. But if what you plan to talk about is a big deal, wait to do it in person.

If the person is down the hall and giving feedback in person just means taking a little walk, then get off your butt!

Best alternatives to in person feedback

When you can’t give feedback in person, you have several alternatives to choose from, but try for an option that gives you the closest approximation to face-to-face conversation. A video call is second best, if you have high speed Internet access. If your connection is spotty you can use phone for voice and video as a bonus, muting your computer. With either of these options, you can still see the person and get some nonverbal cues.

If neither of these options is possible, phone is third best. Email and text should be avoided if at all possible. It always feels faster to fire off an email or chat, but I learned the hard way to just pause before I hit send. There are so many times I had to spend hours clearing up a misunderstanding that arose from an email that went awry.

in person feedback

Build a communication foundation

If you are in a remote office, or if you are managing people in remote offices, it’s really important to have quick daily interactions. Frequent communication, even if not in person and not even with video, will help you become familiar with a person’s tendencies so that you can sense changes. This will allow you to pick up on people’s most subtle emotional cues and will help significantly when it comes time to give feedback and interpret how it is received.


Need help practicing Radical Candor? Then you need The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.

You’ll get an hour of hilarious content about a team whose feedback fails are costing them business; improv-inspired exercises to teach everyone the skills they need to work better together, and after-episode action plans you can put into practice immediately to up your helpful feedback EQ.

We’re offering Radical Candor readers 10% off the self-paced e-course. Follow this link and enter the promo code FEEDBACK at checkout.


Kim Scott is the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and Radical Respect: How to Work Together Better and co-founder of Radical Candor, a company that helps people put the ideas in her books into practice. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. She's also managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow. She lives with her family in Silicon Valley.