The importance of feedback. How to give and receive feedback well?

Each time I think about the problem with feedback, I recall the famous presentation of Erik Meijer “One hacker way“, when he says about the system developed without a proper feedback – no feedback loop – summed up with a sentence “That’s how Microsoft Office Ribbon was born”.

I think I can see this Microsoft-Ribbon problem everywhere, not only at work but also in life. People tend to underestimate how much is it important to give, but also to receive feedback properly. It might also be that they simply don’t know how to do this properly and are afraid to do it the wrong way. So they don’t do it at all.

The thing is, that without this feedback, we’re leaving the improvement process loop to be based only on the vision of the owner of this process.

Giving feedback

Let’s stick to an example. Your boss is asking you to do something you don’t really want to do. Doesn’t matter what’s the reason, for now, let’s just say you have one.

If you won’t tell your boss that you don’t like to work on this task, how do you think he is going to know it? Is it that magic crystal ball that is supposed to tell him that, or is it “his job” to find out that you don’t like it? What if he also has some reasons for which he won’t know it?

You will be involved in something that’s demotivating you, you will very likely be inefficient at this task, what will make your boss unhappy.

Your boss will get frustrated just as you, and after some time, the problems will just appear one by one without actually having a real reason. It could be on to the communication level: your boss means something but you receive it differently because you’re looking from the perspective of the continuous issues between you two (or the other way around).

The tension will grow and at some point, something bad happens. Either you quit your job because you will not be able to stand your manager being upset all the time, pointing you that you could be working more efficient, or you could even end up being fired for it.

Quite often such escalation of the problem wouldn’t take place if in the early stages of such issue it is communicated properly to the boss. I know there are bosses who just don’t like to listen and are masters of the universe that are born to give orders to people. But to me, especially in the IT world, those are being replaced by the people that are open and willing to listen. In the world of leadership being so important at every aspect, having a tyrant for the boss is more and more an unlikely case.

There’s also the case where the boss is upset for the employee not doing his job right, but not giving this feedback and escalating the conflict by looking at him through the prism of all previous tasks that he was unsatisfied with. He’s probably more nervous when discussing with such employee, losing the sense of empathy and closing himself for the source of the issue.

How to give feedback

So how such feedback should be given? I think there are a couple of things to take into account. The feedback should be:

  • Based on some real examples, placed in time
  • Constructive. What exactly was wrong with it, maybe how you would see the different behavior in such case
  • Provided in private. There might be some exceptions here, especially if the issue is rather a small topic, making it a funny conversation, but for serious topics, it must be in private.
  • Focused on finding solution, not punishing
  • Provided as early as possible
  • Not judging anybody. It means history/event-based and with clear consequences (why it was bad, what was the negative impact?)

Please remember there are two sides in the conversation, both have to put their effort to resolve the issue. If only one side tries, while the other is just boxing/complaining, the culture of feedback giving and receiving will not rock your place.

Receiving feedback

Even if the person giving feedback does it perfectly well, on the other side there must be somebody willing to listen to this feedback. Plus, sometimes the feedback cannot be constructed in the list of precise points, verified and well thought of. People are often approaching topics emotionally what impacts the clarity.

Does it mean such feedback should be ignored? Or maybe should we think that such person came to insult us?

Let’s state something that might not be obvious in the first place.

If you want to improve, you really need the feedback.

Without the feedback, you have to invent the problems and solutions. I think solutions are already very hard to work out, let’s not waste time on inventing fake problems while the real ones are killing your effectiveness.

Once we admit that we need the feedback, it might be more obvious to us, that we need to make all we can so that people want to come to us to provide their feedback.

Even if the feedback is not very clear, we have to remember, that the fact that somebody came to talk to us is already a clear signal that something is going on. Even if it turns out the problem is in some other place, if we don’t solve, this problem will be draining your employee/boss productivity which is bad for both parties anyway. You have to be, at least, aware of the problem then.

Depending on the character, there is a longer, or maybe a bit shorter way to understand, that the feedback serves as an input for improvement, it’s not to blame you for doing things wrong, it’s to help you to start doing it better. Trust in people and put in the work to become a better person. The first person that benefits from this process is… YOU.

How to receive feedback?

  • Always listen to the feedback carefully, try to not interrupt to not make the person feel like you don’t really care
  • Don’t take it personally, always look from the improvement perspective. What is the behavior that didn’t work well here? Why? What could you do to change it?
  • Do not fight the person trying to justify yourself right away. There is time for speaking, and time for listening. The person must know you take it seriously, that you care.
  • If the reasoning is unclear, try to find some explanation of such feedback. If you can’t find it with the person, think out of the box. Maybe there’s some personal stuff going on that impacts that person’s behavior, maybe you have to be more empathetic to him and put more effort to make him feel you supporting him?
  • See the big picture. Maybe the person doesn’t know what is the real source of the problem. Maybe it’s not the task is wrong, but the team that happens to work in the same area. Maybe there’s some technical problem and the person doesn’t know it.
  • Always state clearly that you appreciate the feedback so that the person knows that he did it well and wants to come to you next time.
  • Whatever it takes, always provide feedback on the feedback 🙂 Get back to the person once you have it verified and planned some actions. Always notify the person if you have taken some actions, or it’s maybe not possible (sometimes it might be).

Conclusions

I think that receiving feedback is probably more difficult than giving it. Both things, however, have to be done right if one expects to have some good results.

One thing is sure: not giving the right feedback, or not receiving it well, will impact each relationship sooner or later.

What’s your experience with the topic? Give me feedback in the comments 🙂

Advent of Blog

This is my fourteenth post in the series of Advent of Blog 2017. I will be publishing one post per day as I mentioned in my first post of the series.

Stay tuned.

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