Five Steps to Giving Better Feedback

Practice makes perfect, right? Well that may not be the case with feedback, even though many of us dish it out all day long.

I learned that the hard way after completing a software demo for a new product. Everything worked like a charm, and I went back to my desk proud of my team’s success. Then, an email with the subject line “Feedback on Demo” caught my eye.

It contained a bold-faced, bulleted list filled with phrases like “this does not yet look great” and “I think we can improve this much more” and “was this intentional?”

I was shocked at first, but ultimately realized I make some of the same mistakes. There’s no shortage of advice out there, but I started jotting down my own list of what it means to give good feedback and came to the conclusion that giving better fetter feedback is easy if you follow these five rules.

1. If Nobody Saw Your Feedback, Would It Matter?
Once you’ve written down your feedback and structured it in an actionable way, ask yourself what would happen if you deleted everything you wrote. How relevant are the weaknesses you pointed out?  If you’re rebuilding core pieces of a software problem and the feedback you’ve given focuses on potential minor UI improvements, it might be best to hold your tongue for now. If it’s clear you’ll be moving the project or company forward by sharing, go forth and give feedback (but read steps two through five, first).

2. Ask Permission
If someone isn’t ready and willing to accept feedback, your time is better spent elsewhere. And let’s face it—people love to revel in their success for awhile before getting back into improvement mode. I like prompting a conversation with, “I just had a chance to look at XYZ. There was some great progress since the last time I saw it. May I ask you some questions?”

3. Don’t Assume You Know the Project Better
When someone’s in a position to accept feedback, they’ve already put a lot of thought and effort into their work, and they might even have more expertise than you do in that specific area. The last thing they want is for someone to swoop in and assume they know the situation just as well. Instead, ask specific, curiosity-driven questions that show you paid attention and respect their progress. There’s a good chance they’re already aware of the area you chose to correct, but simply didn’t prioritize that specific issue. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

4. If You Can’t Focus on the “How,” Hold Your Thoughts
Feedback should be as actionable as possible, so phrases like “I think we should make this better” aren’t going to cut it. Before giving feedback, I ask myself how prepared I’d be if the person requested a workshop to review ideas for improvement. If that sounds like a massive undertaking, I probably won’t add much value by giving my input.

5. Good Feedback + Bad Phrasing = Bad Feedback
There’s no faster way to ruin quality advice than a poorly worded approach. No one wants you to point out why you’re more qualified in a specific area than they are. By the same token, don’t say things like, “did you deliberately do XYZ?” Keep it kind and considerate.

We’d love to hear: what’s the worst piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten? Did it make you rethink your own approach to giving better feedback?

photo credit: cogdogblog via photopin cc

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