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The Startup Guide to Giving Productive Feedback

The style and way that we choose to communicate feedback to other people is one of key ingredients of today’s culture of work. We want to know if they are delivering their tasks correctly but from the other side, we are afraid to hear that we didn’t do our job right, or maybe the client isn’t happy. The problem occurs because feedback is often mistaken for personal criticism.

When was the last time you had to give feedback to someone? Or maybe you had to listen to feedback about yourself?

At Netguru, we strongly believe in giving and receiving feedback about one’s work. There are a few reasons for that: we want to get better at what we do and improve the quality of the solutions we provide to our clients. Last but not least, personal growth relies on feedback for each and every one of our employees.

The style and way that we choose to communicate feedback to other people is one of key ingredients of today’s culture of work. The challenge is to give feedback that will improve future situations, while not making things worse or offering nothing actionable. It’s not just for criticism, the same goes for praise too:

"The most common pitfall is thinking that giving personal praise is the same as giving feedback," says Helen Timperley in the article "The Power of Feedback" in the Review of Educational Research.

How To Give Feedback

Generally speaking, everybody expects to receive feedback. Doesn’t matter who you are in the company (our bosses often ask for it :) ), how big the company is, or what the management model is.

People want to know if they are delivering their tasks correctly, how their work influences others, and everyone involved should know if the is client happy. We want to know all those things; but from the other side, we are afraid to hear that we didn’t do our job right, or maybe the client isn’t happy. The problem occurs because feedback is often mistaken for personal criticism.

When you give feedback, you must first know the rules of feedback, and know the specific goal you want to achieve before giving it.

The Rules of Feedback

Here are the ground rules for preparing feedback properly :

  • Always speak about facts, never base things on speculation.
  • Speak about the object or behaviour, never about the person (e.g. You did X wrong vs. X could have been done better).
  • Give feedback as soon as possible, and only proximate to the situation. Never mention stuff that happened 6 months ago.
  • Be specific, focus on certain behaviours or repeated patterns. Illustrate or explain how the behavior affects other elements.
  • Choose a good, isolated place like a separate room or a conference room. Never do it in a room full of other people, or people who are not involved.
  • Try not to use chat. It is hard to explain some things in writing. When speaking about “remote feedbacking” book a conference room and do a conference call, always with a camera switched on. You should be able to see another person face and react to their emotions.
  • Don’t judge the aspects that the person has no influence on.
  • Choose a style or form for giving feedback: for example less experienced people need more praising. More experienced employees know what they are doing correctly and don’t need that much praising. They need to get a clear, detailed information about what they should correct.
  • State your expectations clearly.
  • Focus on the benefit that a person might get from receiving a feedback.
  • Give only as much information as a person can handle, or needs to fix the situation (don’t list 10 pieces of supporting evidence, just a few strong ones).

Forms of Feedback

There are several forms of giving feedback like Sandwich model, GROW model, SWOT model, which we can choose depending on our level of experience.

The words we use to offer feedback or constructive criticism are important.

For example: “you jeopardised an important project again” is emotional and non-specific. Instead, we can say,”you didn’t prepare part of code I asked you for on time, and which has now caused a delay in project x”.

Never use words like always, never, everybody. They are a generalisations and you need to referee to a very specific situation.

For example instead of saying “You’re always telling the client wrong things” say, “I think that telling the client yesterday that we will be able to do this task was a mistake because X”. Even a simple “never do that again” can be more effective when its phrased differently as, “please remember about this next time. It is very important for me.”

The absolute key to feedback is not WHAT you are saying but HOW you are saying it.

Feedback Culture

If you are working in an environment with feedback culture people are used to receiving feedback and feel more comfortable in a situation. If it’s something new the usual reactions to feedback might be :

  • Shock/Anger - people tend to react emotionally or impulsively
  • Indifference - a way of reacting to feedback in an apathetic manner and not commit to doing things differently
  • Resistance/Denial - people attack your credibility and the facts. They refuse to acknowledge the issue and deny a situation took place
  • Lack of Confidence/Self Pity - people don’t know their strengths and weaknesses or are uncertain in their abilities to succeed
  • Responsibility Skirting - people acknowledge the negative feedback but try to blame others, implying indirectly that they won’t change

The way we can cope with such reactions is always remain calm, state facts, ask for other side opinions, make people feel respected, observe reactions and respond accordingly.

Giving and receiving feedback effectively is an important part of communication. In Part 2 of this mini series, we’ll take a closer look at receiving feedback & criticism. Stay tuned!

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