Compliment sandwiches may have tasted tolerable the first few times you received them. Receiving a bit of criticism wrapped in praise isn’t the worst way to get bad news, but many of us can hear the sandwich being made a mile away. This method of delivering feedback also leaves out a few crucial components of communicating with an assistant; top-notch communication is a little more nuanced than “praise-critique-praise.”
The best way to influence your virtual assistant’s work is through well-timed, organized, expertly worded feedback—the kind that gets you what you want while motivating your VA to do even better in the future.
Provide Feedback Throughout the Work
Did you ever walk away from a test or essay in school feeling like you’d crushed it, only to have it come back riddled with red pen? Almost certainly, the shock made the bad grade sting worse than it would if you’d expected it. Receiving feedback from you shouldn’t trigger that feeling in your VA. Working with you shouldn’t feel like a test—you and your VA are teammates, working together toward the success of your business.
Don’t wait until a quarterly review or the end of a long project to offer feedback to your VA. A truly excellent VA won’t require much handholding, but that doesn’t mean you need to take a vow of silence until the work is complete. Jump in with a quick adjustment when you see there’s been a miscommunication. Drop them a word of encouragement when you catch them going the extra mile. Practicing ongoing feedback means you’ll catch hiccups in your workflow before they turn into costly wastes of time.
Don’t Be a Helicopter Boss
You’ve probably heard of the helicopter parent: the type who monitors their child’s every movement and chimes in on every decision. Bosses aren’t immune to this behavior, either. While ongoing feedback is critical to healthy communication with your VA, beware of becoming a helicopter boss.
No, sending three “Just checking in!” emails per day (when you’ve already negotiated a clear deadline) likely isn’t necessary. Writing you continuous status reports shouldn’t comprise 50 percent of your VA’s workload. Remember that you hired an assistant to get work off your plate; don’t let the impulse to micromanage ruin that. Trust you’ve hired a responsible VA who knows how to manage their time.
Master Your Written Tone
In a typical virtual work relationship, most communication takes place via text (email, direct message, etc.). Body language, pitch, stress, environmental context—none of the usual tools you use for in-person communication apply here. To communicate accurately and effectively with your VA, you’ll need to master your written tone.
Some professional relationships require a more formal communication style. In other relationships, that formality might come across as robotic or displeased. Ask yourself: How much do your emails sound like your face-to-face (phone, video, etc.) communication with your VA? Aim to mimic that as closely as possible in your writing.
Err on the side of positivity whenever possible, knowing that even benign word and punctuation choices can send your VA into an insecurity spiral. When you do have corrections or negative feedback to deliver, steer clear of passive-aggressive cheeriness—your VA will likely sense your insincerity. Stay honest and authentic.
Collect Your Feedback Before Sounding Off
Help your assistant corral your feedback by delivering it in a consolidated manner. Sending eight emails in response to a single project makes it difficult (not to mention annoying) for your VA to understand and implement your feedback without missing an item.
As you review your VA’s work, gather your notes in one place and wait to deliver them until your review is complete. This could mean a single email containing a list of notes or a chain of comments on a document. If you give verbal feedback via a conference call, consider following up the call with an email summarizing the notes you delivered. If you’re working on a large or long-term project together, set a cut-off date for delivering feedback to avoid stringing your VA along in an endless revision process.
Are you ever allowed to ask for last-minute fixes? Of course! But these requests should be exceptions to your communication style—not a frustrating habit your VA comes to dread.
As your relationship with your VA matures, don’t let frustrations fester or hard work go unappreciated. Why wait until you’re ready to end your contract to let them know how you feel? Chime in throughout the work process (without hovering), finesse your tone, and consolidate your notes to deliver the most effective feedback possible and cultivate an honest, trusting relationship with your rockstar of a VA.
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Lee is a Brooklyn-based multi-hyphenate with a background in writing, design, media production, and the arts. Since 2014, he's been helping Don't Panic's clients launch books, start podcasts, design beautiful publications, and polish up their writing. Talk to him about Star Trek any time.
Work superpower: Finding the perfect word
Favorite cheese: Aged gouda
Go-to karaoke song: "Faith" - George Michael
Beverage of choice: Ginger beer
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