I’ve worked at a number of different kinds of organizations, from startups to agencies to huge product teams. While every different organization type has its pros and its cons, one thing has struck me across the board: few seem to handle feedback—the kind that provides the team with useful, actionable information about their performance—very well. What’s going on here?
Here are a few less-than-helpful types of feedback I’ve encountered throughout my career:
- The “Plague of Vague” feedback, where a manager or team member has nothing but vague, good things to say about performance. This feedback in no way reflects my actual performance, and it provides no clear path for growth.
- The “Critical For The Sake Of Critical” feedback, where the person delivering the feedback seems to find the strangest little details to focus on, that have no real bearing on your actual performance.
- The “Guess What I’m Thinking” feedback, where someone is clearly skirting around some big issue, but won’t say it directly (this one is my least favorite).
- The “You Killed My Firstborn” feedback, where that person is clearly on a mission to crush you, whether it’s because of your performance or not.
And of course, many others that I’d love to hear about from readers out there.
No matter how structured or how formalized an organization’s internal systems, one thing may lie at the heart of this feedback issue—confrontation avoidance and, often times, I’d bet it has a lot to do with not wanting to make others uncomfortable. This makes sense; “not wanting to make people uncomfortable” is a pretty useful mindset for most social situations.
Of course, the workplace is not exactly “most social situations.” And my pseudo-psychology waxing aside, this is something a lot of people have been talking about for a long time. But this has struck my fancy lately after seeing one of the talks coming up at the Design + Content conference in Vancouver, which I’ve written about before. (Side note: check further down this article for a promo code if you’d like to attend—we partnered with the conference this year.)
The talk is called Don’t Kill Them Softly: Fostering a Culture of Fearless Feedback by Amelie Lamont. The gist is simple: everyone has feedback. But harmful, useless, or unactionable feedback (like the feedback types I described above) can absolutely wither away a team’s dynamic. In her talk, Amelie will discuss frameworks for fostering what she calls “fearless feedback”—a culture that focuses on adding value rather than pointing out flaws.
Check out the Design + Content registration page for more details on attending. UX Booth readers receive a 10% discount on registration—just enter the promo code uxbooth when you sign up. Oh and if you’re interested but on the fence, keep in mind there are only about 50 tickets left (as of the writing of this article).
Anyway, here are a few things I’ve found useful in delivering the right kind of feedback:
- Don’t give compliments just to soften the blow. Especially if they’re not genuine compliments. It’s patronizing.
- Don’t shame or blame. You’re obviously directing feedback at a specific person—there’s no need to call attention to the fact that something isn’t perfect. Focus on what needs to improve.
- Provide advice about how to improve. If you’ve noticed something that could be improved, you likely have an improvement in mind. Share your ideas and open yourself to conversation.
- Deliver the more negative feedback privately. If the feedback is something that might embarrass the receiver, deliver that privately, rather than in front of the team.
- Timeliness matters. Whether it’s positive or negative, try to deliver feedback as soon as possible. Context is important.
But enough about me; what kinds of feedback do you like to receive?