The right way to use feedback

Being able to effectively give and receive feedback is a key part of being a Computerlover and it's something we try to do as regularly as possible here.

When delivered in the right way, feedback can be extremely powerful. Using feedback properly is most definitely a skill -- and one that you only get better at with practise.

Here I'm going to outline some tips on the right way to use feedback with reference to what we do here at Code.

What is feedback?

First, let's start by looking at exactly what feedback is -- and also what it's not.

Feedback is when you share information about the impact you feel a person's behaviour has had/is having, but without dictating how the other person should behave. The idea is that, by giving useful feedback, you allow them to determine for themselves what course of action to take.

Feedback and advice are two different things; when you give advice you're telling the person what you think they should do and therefore taking away their freedom to decide for themselves. For example, saying to someone "You shouldn't talk over others at the next meeting" is advice, whereas "At the last meeting, I felt like the fact that you talked over others was disrespectful and also meant we didn't get as much out of the meeting as we could have" is feedback.

Giving feedback shouldn't be a selfish undertaking -- it most definitely is not is an excuse to vent your own frustration by criticising someone in the name of being 'honest'. Approach the process with this attitude and the person you're delivering your 'feedback' to is likely to feel hurt, get defensive, and/or not take any of what you're saying on board. And that doesn't help anyone.

Also remember that feedback doesn't always have to be around something 'negative'; giving your colleagues feedback on a job well done is equally important.

Why we use feedback at Code

We're big believers in being open and honest with each other here at Code.

We know we do our best work through collaboration and we are all passionate, wanting to continually improve and be better; feedback is part of Code's Make Better toolkit, and when practiced regularly, it massively helps us excel in this.

An individual's behaviour can have far reaching consequences. Take the example I used above of someone who's talking over others during meetings; in doing so, they could be knocking the confidence of other team members, causing them to take a step back. And without their input, bad decisions could be made around the project in question.

Being willing to talk any issues through is a constructive way -- rather than letting them fester -- and also providing praise where it's due aids collaboration, improves team dynamics and ultimately helps us do better work.

Tips on how to give effective feedback

  • Feedback should be FAST: Frequent, Accurate, Specific, and Timely.
  • Plan what you want to say in advance to make sure you're as clear as possible -- jotting down some notes will help with this.
  • Choose the right time. Feedback shouldn't be delivered in the 'heat of the moment' as you need time to reflect on what happened, but, equally, you shouldn't wait too long as the longer you wait, the less power the feedback will carry. You also need to consider whether the person you want to deliver feedback to is currently in the right state of mind to receive that feedback properly -- if they seem stressed or distracted, wait until another time.
  • Always deliver feedback in private.
  • Don't deliver 'second-hand' feedback; it should always relate to a situation you were part of yourself.
  • Be as specific as you can, and focus on how the person's actions have affected others; never resort to making personal statements or criticisms. Applying the following structure is helpful:

"When you [describe the behaviour], I feel/felt [describe how the behaviour affected you]. [Provide details of the impact/possible impact the behaviour had/could have on you the team/the project is/was].[Suggest how the person could modify their behaviour if you'd like]."

Some examples:

"When you were fifteen minutes late to the meeting, I felt frustrated that I had to repeat information I had already gone over. It meant that we didn't have time to cover everything we needed to during the course of the meeting. Because of this, I'd appreciate if you arrived on time for meetings in the future."

"When you delivered that presentation to the client, I felt like you had an in-depth understanding of the project and your ideas perfectly met the client brief. You did a great job."

  • Straight after you've delivered the feedback, ask the person if they'd like to respond; this will help you see things from their point of view.
  • Always follow up on any agreements you make as a result of the feedback, and also make sure you recognise any subsequent positive changes in behaviour.

How to accept feedback

  • Some would say the receiving feedback in the right way is actually more difficult that giving it... Try and think as feedback as a gift: be thankful that the person had the courage to share the feedback with you and receive it gratefully even if it's hard to hear at first.
  • Really listen to the other person's feedback, try and understand their point of view and let them finish before saying anything yourself.
  • Don't become defensive or angry, even if you don't agree with the feedback. Remember: feedback is one person's perspective on a situation.
  • Thank the person for their feedback then go away and reflect on what was said and decide if there's any action you want to take off the back of it.

An end to office moaning

Ignoring and/or moaning about a problem is easy, but it won't get you anywhere. To make positive change, you have to take action.

So next time you find yourself complaining to someone about a colleague's behaviour, think about whether providing them with feedback would be a more productive way to find a solution that benefits everyone.

I'm betting the answer will be 'yes'.

The original version of this blog appeared on the DPM Conference blog.


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