If someone had given me ten cents every time I heard the sentence in the title, I would be a very wealthy man. However, that sentence is a perfect example of the worst type of feedback you can give someone.
Before we dive into why that sentence isn’t useful as feedback the and the How of giving feedback, let’s take a moment to look at the Why and the What.
The Britannica Dictionary states: “Feedback is helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve something such as a performance, product, etc.” [https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/feedback]
Notice that while it does contain the word criticism, helpful information (aka positive feedback) is essential to reinforce the behaviors that you do like to see more of.
If I have to point at one thing that I’ve seen that really accelerates the growth and productivity of a company or a team it is feedback. Honest feedback given often and with good intentions has the power to supercharge your team or organization.
Feedback is the key to growth.
How to deliver feedback
Let’s come back to the title of this blog post. What exactly is it about that sentence that makes it not very useful as feedback? First of all it’s not specific. What exactly is it that I’m doing that is “fine”? Everything? Maybe just enough? No idea.
Second, it's not actionable. There is nothing in there that helps me figure out if there is something in what I do that I should do more of or if I should educate myself further in a certain topic.
When possible, also try to tie the feedback to specific events. For example “When you said X in the meeting this Monday, you made me feel Y because…”
Another example would be “You are delivering code in a fast pace, which is good. But I think you could avoid bugs, like the one right here, by slowing down just a bit.”
Timing the feedback
The timing of the delivery cannot only be on your terms. I usually get a lot of push back on this with the argument that people need to be thick skinned or learn to take criticism.
But what is actually more important? That you are in the right or to get your message across? Whatever you answer, just remember that you cannot control anything outside of yourself and your own thoughts.
Delivering a message that gets received requires delivering it when the receiver is ready for it. Compare it with a garage door. It doesn't matter how much you think it should be open, if it’s not you will just crash into it when you try to park your car. Nothing personal. The door was just closed.
Same goes if the person you want to give feedback to is upset about something unrelated to your feedback. It doesn’t matter if you think they should be open to your feedback. They just aren’t.
A better way to go about it is to find a time where you know the receiver is not rushing to a meeting or on their way to pick up their kids. If it’s a subordinate, use the 1-on-1 time. If it’s your manager, also use the 1-on-1 time. If it’s a peer, try to get a few minutes undisturbed with them.
When all is said and done though, feedback given in a suboptimal time is better than not giving feedback at all. So don’t use this as an excuse for holding back.
Receiving feedback is not a passive act. Yes, I’m fully aware of what I just wrote about garage doors being closed. But the only thing you can really control is yourself and there are certain steps you can take to make sure you maximize the value that you get from the feedback.
Step 1: Thank the sender. It doesn't matter what they said or how they said it. Feedback is a gift, so make sure you acknowledge that you are aware of that by giving thanks.
Step 2: Repeat the feedback back to the sender in the way you heard it. This might seem weird, but what they think they said and what you heard might not be the same. Repeating it back to them makes sure you are on the same page, and reassures the sender that they are heard.
Step 3: Accept or reject the feedback. Yes, you read that right. It’s absolutely ok to not accept all feedback that comes your way. The goal here is to make sure the person giving the feedback feels heard. However, making someone feel heard and doing what they ask are two very different things.
Giving feedback does not come easy for most people. Be it a fear of hurting someone's feelings or just not appreciating how powerful it can be. Most people need an initial push to get started and the simplest way to push someone into starting giving feedback is to ask for it yourself.
At the bottom of this post I’ll link to two podcast episodes that informed this blog post in particular. The second one comes with a set of scripts at the end that I found exceptionally useful, much better than I could ever come up with myself.
Lastly, my hope when publishing pieces like this is that I can help at least one person to get just a little bit better. If you feel I did that for you I would love for you to send me an email or @ me on Twitter.
If you didn’t I would love to get your feedback on what you think was missing or which part you think I got wrong.
Thank you for reading.
After over a decade of building apps, teams and companies, I've now started coaching founders and CTOs through something that I call Nyblom-as-a-Service.
If this is something that would be interesting to you feel free to schedule a free discovery call to see if we are a good match for each other.