One of the most common complaints registered during team assessments is a lack of feedback, be it from peers or from managers. However, we ourselves do nothing to make the feedback process smoother and more organic. This article is here to change that!
Why Should I Give Feedback?
First, you do it because you care. Giving feedback means that you want a person or team to improve, and that you believe they have the potential to be even better than they are.
Second, fostering a team environment in which everyone feels safe to give and receive feedback means that none of your team members will hesitate to help each other avoid mistakes or to offer new ideas for solutions. Your team will coordinate tasks more efficiently and leave no room for communication mistakes just because someone was too shy to clarify a question.
From a company standpoint, having a safe environment for feedback also creates trust that the company will not fire someone the first time they make a mistake, which will improve talent retention.
What's the Best Way to Give Feedback?
First of all, let's acknowledge that receiving constructive feedback is hard. It can be uncomfortable, it might feel shaming, and sometimes it can hurt us emotionally. So be prepared for some resistance.
Also, remember that the team member to whom you're giving feedback is not a bad person. They simply don't know that a certain habit is bad for the team or the company.
With this in mind, let's discuss how to offer feedback in a way that is constructive rather than detrimental.
As Jory MacKay says in his article "The 7 Essential Qualities of Effective Feedback," feedback has to be specific, timely, candid, and meaningful in order to be effective.
First off, there is an appropriate time to give feedback. Prepare the person you want to talk to beforehand. Don't give feedback out of the blue, at lunch time, surrounded by coworkers. This will only serve to embarrass your team member.
The best way to give feedback is to invite your friend to a private conversation, explaining in advance what the topic of conversation will be, and then talk together. Be clear that you're not making fun of the person and that you're addressing the situation because you want to help them become better in a certain area.
Sentences like "You're acting weird lately" and "You're not yourself anymore" mean nothing. In her article "Feedback That Works," Cynthia M. Phoel recommends using the following format as a guideline for giving feedback: "I'd like to talk about your <behavior>. Last <day of week> you did this, and it's been causing some problems for the team, namely <the result of that behavior>. What do you think about <possible solution>?"
Here's an example: "I'd like to talk to you about being on time. Last Friday you were late for our client meeting, and it caused some problems for our team. Whenever you come late, we need to delay important topics of conversation to wait for you, wasting everyone's time. What do you think about setting up alarms half an hour before meetings so you know when you're supposed to arrive?"
Don't sugar coat your feedback. Sentences like "You may or may not be doing X or Y" and "Sometimes you frustrate me" will only serve to make your peer or subordinate feel confused. That's why you should always use facts. Be clear on how you felt and what was the expected result or behavior.
Give plenty of reasons to explain why a behavior is problematic, or conversely, plenty of reasons an employee has done a good job.
"Your presentation was nice" feels too shallow and doesn't show the strengths and weaknesses of the work. Try to use speechwriter Simon Lancaster's rule of three. "Your presentation was easy to follow, fluid, and really welcomed participation from the audience!"
Last but not least, remember that you may not know the whole truth. The situation could be a one time occurrence or an exceptional situation. Don't assume you're right.
How Should I Receive Feedback?
People tend to take feedback personally, so it's important to reframe how we think about it. Remember that feedback is rarely intended to be malicious. Instead, consider that the person giving you feedback is your greatest ally. Rather than talking about your behavior behind your back, they respect you enough to share their insights with you directly. That is a gift!
We all have behaviors that can hinder team performance, not because we're evil, but because we're unaware of such behaviors; that's why we should always be thankful for every piece of helpful feedback we receive.
Now, there are a couple of natural psychological defense mechanisms that you should be aware of. These defense mechanisms were made to help you deal with embarrassing situations, and they're important, but they can become an obstacle when receiving constructive feedback. Here are a few attitudes you should try to avoid when receiving feedback.
1. Justifying Every Occasion
"That happened only once and it was on a day when I was very tired."
"Well, that other time it happened because I was stressed and late in delivering some report."
2. Feeling Persecuted
"You are doing this because you have something against me."
"You are just saying that because you want to take my job."
3. Attacking the Other Person
"Who are you to talk to me about this?"
"Did I ask you something?"
4. Taking it Personally
"Do you hate me?"
"I never thought you would do this to me."
Remember, when done well, giving feedback is a kind act. Its sole purpose is to help you grow, both as a professional and as an individual.
The best way to take feedback is to write down what's being said. Go home and think about it. See if there is at least some truth to the feedback you received. Be aware of your defense mechanisms, and work on changing anything you identify as a bad behavior.
Last but not least, thank the person. It was not easy for them to give you feedback, and they felt just as uncomfortable as you did.
How to Start Creating a Culture of Feedback
Creating a feedback culture that's healthy and evolves the whole team requires making yourself vulnerable. The moment your team notices that receiving feedback is not as hard as they thought, they will be more willing to expose themselves both to giving and receiving feedback and will be more than happy to see their peers helping them become the best version of themselves.
Have you ever received feedback that changed the way you view your life? Share your story with us!
Does your company have a feedback culture? Tell us know how it works!
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article? Share it with them!
Mahezer Melo is a Software Engineer at Avenue Code. He likes to ramble about best coding practices and Functional Programming. He’s a hobbyist, from skateboarding to mixing cocktails, and right now he is learning how to fish.