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Why and how to give constructive feedback

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Source: anon

As per requested after my article on the importance of feedback, this one covers why you should always give constructive feedback, and some tips to help you do it.

In this context, we are talking about all feedback in general, whether it’s about someone’s personality, someone’s work, or anything else. It applies to any aspect of your life when you communicate with others.

Constructive feedback gets the word accross

Feedback generally is a cause for change, and our reflex towards change is to be either scared or reluctant of doing it which is why the approach you use when giving feedback as a strong impact on the receiver’s reaction.

By staying constructive, the receiver will listen more, and will avoid going on the defensive. Therefore, your message has a much better chance of being taken seriously, and you will not enter into a never-ending debate.

Few tips

  • 1. Stay positive: Avoid insults or anything that might make the receiver feel bad. For example, avoid any speech that sounds like “You do this wrong so….” or “You messed up, next time…”. All those words bring absolutely nothing to your message, so just don’t use them. You still have to get your message across so you can’t sugar-coat it too much, just be careful on the words you use.
  • 2. One-on-one: Depending of the nature of the feedback, consider giving it when you’re alone with receiver. Therefore, you will avoid any pressure the presence of others add, and the receiver will be more open. Some people are too proud and may deny everything while others listen so by talking alone with them, you’ll get them to listen.
  • 3. Everyone is different: Know the people you give feedback to. Some are open, some are less, so you may have to vary your approach between “Simple direct honesty” to “Very gentle”. If you haven’t had the chance to get to know the receiver, then be gentle, and adapt the conversation depending of how the receiver reacts. If you feel that the receiver goes into the defensive, quickly change your approach to disengage, or you may have to stop altogether to prevent frustration or waste of time.
  • 4. Aim at what the receiver wants: Although this tip is good to consider in every type of communication, it still applies very well here. The trick is to concentrate your words around what the receiver will gain rather than anyone else. For example, you could use the team approach like “If you do it that way, others will like your code more.”, but the receiver will be more receptive if you turn it around for him only like “You will have a much better time using your own code if you do it that way instead.”. Try thinking about what the receiver wants, and turn your feedback around that. It may be tricky at first, but it becomes easier as you try it.
  • 5. Be clear: Explain the feedback, whether it’s by giving a simple explanation, or using specific examples. Avoid saying “Don’t use too much blue.” and turn it around like “If you use more orange, you’ll add contrast and visibility.”. If the message is understood, chances are, it will be taken into account. However, if it’s too vague or completely unclear, the receiver won’t know how to change, or won’t be motivated to do it, or worst, may even feel irritated.
  • 6. Ask the receiver how he feels: Giving feedback must be a conversation and not a one-way street. Ask the receiver what he thinks of the feedback, and how he feels. It will get him to open up and discuss, and you may even come to an understanding better than what you hoped for. Some people will give their opinion without asking, but some have a hard time speaking, so give them a chance to talk, make it easy for them.

In conclusion

Giving feedback is important, and how you give it is just as important. Avoid blaming others for a lack of openness if you do not pay attention to how you give feedback. Adapt your approach to the person and context, and you will get your messages across.

Feel free to share more tips or discussions you had.


2 Comments

Why feedback is important and what to avoid

Feedback is a free way of getting better, or improving everything around us.

Of course there is positive/constructive feedback, and there is negative/destructive feedback. Here I will concentrate on why it is important to take all feedback into consideration and not how you should give feedback to others.

All feedback gives valuable information

Feedback can be given on your work, your project, on anything! Whether it’s being said constructively or not, there is a meaning behind it, and by actually listening to it and keeping an opened mind, you can use it to change something and improve.

Unfortunately, most will give meaningless feedback like “I hate it”, “It’s horrible”, which shows that something is potentially wrong, but doesn’t give any detail to what. When this happens, try to gather more information, by asking this simple question: why?

You have to understand the feedback to be able to make your own opinion on the matter, and then decide if a change could improve something. For example, you could be told that your emails are too wordy and they are heavy to read. You may not have noticed, and that feedback as given you the opportunity to fine-tune the way you write emails.

It could come from friends, colleagues, clients, managers; it doesn’t matter, it can all be useful, and it’s free! Quick tip: you may have to ask for feedback to receive any, most will not give any otherwise.

Common reactions to avoid

Feel attacked: It’s hard sometimes to receive feedback that seem to diminish us or our work, but avoid taking it as an attack, that will make you go on the defensive and find any way of working around the feedback, which will solve nothing.

For example, if someone tells you that you mispronounced a certain word, instead of lashing at the person telling them “you always heard it that way”, you may want to consider correcting the way you say it and actually thanking the person.

Destroy the feedback: When you don’t agree with the comment and automatically think it’s “stupid”.

For example, someone says your website is hard to understand, and your reaction is to think he’s probably a “newb” and that’s why he can’t find his way and nothing is wrong with the website. If one person can’t find his way, chances are, many others will have the same problem, maybe your website needs to be adjusted!

Ignore it: That’s just wrong, that leaves you blinded to what’s around you, and prevents any evolution whatsoever.

Over-justify: Some may feel compelled to justify why they do what they do, whatever it is, whatever the feedback. You ignore the feedback, but it’s even worst since you justify that what you are doing wrong, is right.

For example, let’s say your coding could use some improvements, and your team-lead gives you a great tip, and you tell him how “you learned it that way, and many do it that way…”. By doing so, you miss the chance of improving your coding, and you probably annoyed your team-lead!

In conclusion

Feedback is valuable and an important part or your evolution, ask for it and people are generally happy to give it you. Actually, if you ask for feedback, people will tend to more constructive, give it a try!