Giving feedback well (and taking it too) has been a personal quest of mine. As a manager, I have been bad at it. I have spent the last two years trying to learn everything I can about doing this better. If we apply the right framework, is it possible to not hurt their feelings? And help them get better? I think so. This WIP article is my compilation of everything that I have learned.
First, understand that why some feedback is received poorly
Neuroscience research shows that our brain perceives criticism as a survival threat. Since it wants to protect us, it goes out of its way to make us feel we are right. Feedback which is mean spirited, and emotionally charged is sure to go sideways. And we remember negative things way more than positive things. This is a well known mental model.
Specific, timely and contextual feedback does way better
“Your meeting presentation skills are pretty bad” is NEVER helpful. Just like goals, feedback should also be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. This is a much better way to give feedback -
> “Yesterday, during the marketing meeting I noticed something interesting that you might find useful. In your slide #3, there was a conclusion without any accompanying data. I have learnt the hard way that clients don’t find the feature set very powerful if this happens often. If you have more time, can I show you some PPT examples that worked well in the past?”
And this is why I encourage you to give feedback as soon as you think of it. Don’t leave it for later.
Side note: One of my dream features within Kaapi is to build contextual feedback! E.g. Can your peers give you feedback as soon as you close a deal on Salesforce? Or merge a pull request on Github? Maybe we will build it one day! :)
Stay away from SHIT sandwich
I can’t believe that people are still recommending it. Don’t try to hide criticism within unnecessary compliments. Stop. Doing this! People are smart enough to see through this.
Don’t make it personal
You have to focus on the issue, and the impact it had. Not on the person. You give feedback on a software bug, doesn’t make them a bad developer. It simply means that they could have done it better this time. And this should come out in how you phrase your words. Over communicate that you are giving feedback on a specific performance, not their personality.
Should you give negative feedback only in private?
I disagree. If you discuss areas of improvement in private meetings, then how will others learn from this failure? If done properly, in the right context, there is no reason why negative feedback should be hidden.
Start by asking for permission. End by suggesting next steps
This is the only sandwich you should be serving! Start by asking for their permission e.g.
> “Hi I have a few points that might help do this better. Can I bring them up right now?”
And end by suggesting taking this offline where you and them can talk about this in more detail. You can also recommend a few things that might have improved the current work. No one likes people who keep pointing out problems. A good leader also talks about solutions and gets involved in them!
No matter how angry this situation may be making you, you can not use that as a driver. You shouldn’t be shooting from your hip. Think with a calm mind. And prepare all points that you want to talk about while giving the feedback e.g.
- Any examples in the past that worked better
- What exact impact did this issue have
Don’t react as soon as you see a mistake!
Practice the right phrases
How you say something matters. HBR has some great examples that focus on the strengths of the other person, not weaknesses:
- “That didn’t work” is wrong. Try “When did you x, I didn't get that.”
- “You lack strategic planning” is personal and also assumes you are right. Try “I’m struggling to understand your plan. Can we go through it again?”
A list of great articles I learnt from