When I worked as an Agile Coach at Spotify, people were surprised to learn that, contrary to popular belief, Spotify was in fact very hierarchical (6 layers from CEO to developer). It was also true that we valued peer feedback and self-management within each of these layers. Effective feedback and feedback training were crucial factors in making sure we stayed lean despite the hierarchy that had accumulated over the years.
In one of the feedback workshops I facilitate, participants are asked to discuss “things to think about when considering giving feedback to someone”. The following 7 points are the ones that come up most frequently in these discussions.
I’ve long been using them as my own personal pointers, and I’m happy to be able to share them with a wider audience in the hopes that they bring more people value.
1 – Your feedback must be necessary.
The feedback you are about to offer must be necessary in order for you to maintain a good working relationship with the other person. If you are not doing it to improve your relationship, reconsider your feedback.
The first question you should answer is “Why do I want to offer this feedback?”. Is it to improve your working relationship with someone? Is it because you disagree with someone’s choices, style, or behavior? Or is it perhaps something else entirely?
Takeaway: Ask yourself why you want to offer this feedback.
2 – Get permission before you give someone feedback.
If the person you want to give feedback to has not asked you for your feedback then that’s where you need to start. One way to get permission is to simply ask “May I offer you some feedback?”.
If you give someone feedback without his or her consent, there’s a chance that you could harm your relationship. Asking someone for permission allows him/her to mentally prepare. It also allows him/her to say no if it isn’t a good time.
Takeaway: Make sure you have someone’s permission before giving them your feedback.
3 – Your feedback should come from a place of care.
A colleague of mine was struggling with delivering feedback. “I’ve received feedback that I’m too direct and harsh when I deliver feedback. I don’t want to sugarcoat my feedback because I don’t want it to lose its meaning, but people are rejecting my feedback because they claim it’s too harsh. What do I do?”
I asked her “Can you distinguish between feedback written by someone who cares about you from feedback written by someone who does not care about you?”. “Yes, of course, I can… Oh…” she said.
When feedback comes from a place of care the other person notices and it’s more likely that you’ll improve your working relationship.
Takeaway: Ask yourself if your feedback would sound different if it were offered to someone you cared about deeply.
4 – Be lean and precise.
How long is your feedback? Are you explaining a lot of, or any, context before you share your thoughts and observations? If so, you’re probably bringing up unnecessary details. You don’t need to explain yourself or set context when you are giving feedback.
If the other person wants to explore the context further and you are up for it, that’s great. But the primary goal with your feedback is to help the other person understand the effects of his or her behavior on a situation and on your relationship.
Takeaway: Keep your feedback brief and relevant.
5 – Describe the person’s behavior, don’t judge her.
Feedback should be focused on observable behavior. Instead it is often clouded by labels and judgements. Oftentimes this is not intentional. It is inherently difficult to see past our own filters after all. But if you want to be successful at delivering feedback, your feedback needs to be about behavior, not interpretation.
Feedback that starts with “You” is more likely to contain interpretation. Here are examples of such feedback:
- “You were impulsive in yesterday’s standup, and that’s frustrating. Please think about what you want to say.”
- “You talk too much. You should talk less or people will stop listening to you.”
- “You’re too sensitive. You won’t last if you start crying everytime I disagree with you.”
- “Your solution was bad. You really need to learn how our systems work!”
- “You take up too little space…”
- “You’re such a…”
- “You’re not a good leader/collaborator/mentor/etc”
Picture yourself receiving feedback like that. What would you change?
Here are examples 1-3, this time with the behavior and consequence described instead:
- In yesterdays standup you interrupted me twice and changed the topic. As a result I lost my train of thought and I didn’t bring up the problem I had intended to, which I realised after the standup and I later ran into problems. This made me frustrated.
- Yesterday in our lean coffee you interrupted me and changed topic while we were discussing “Code quality”. I then stopped listening and disengaged from the meeting. I wish that you don’t interrupt me, and that you stick to the subject we’re discussing.
- Yesterday, our team lead, gave me feedback that I had been too harsh on you. That made me sad. I’m guessing there’s something I’ve done to scare or upset you that I haven’t understood. Can we talk about this so neither of us goes around feeling bad working together?
Takeaway: Ask someone neutral that you trust, e.g. a coach or manager, for feedback on your feedback before you offer it.
6 – Maintain your relationship and check how your feedback was understood.
When a feedback giver deliver unclear feedback, the receiver’s behavior does not change. Sometimes the receiver may end up changing something unintended. In both cases, the relationship could be damaged. Without good relationships with your colleagues, trust declines, barriers and silos form, quality drops, and delivery suffers. It’s that simple whether we like it or not.
So how do you as a giver of feedback make sure that your feedback was correctly understood and that it didn’t damage your relationship? Well..you could always ask.
Example questions are:
- “How do you feel about this feedback?”
- “How did you interpret this feedback?”
- “How do you think my feedback affected our relationship?”
- “What are your takeaways?”
- “How would you summarize the feedback I have given you?”
Takeaway: Ask the person how she feels about the feedback, and how the feedback affected your relationship.
7 – Be ready to receive feedback.
Whenever you offer someone feedback they might want to return the favor. Are you ready to receive feedback from the other person? If not, you should consider waiting with offering her your feedback.
Takeaway: Be prepared for any feedback that may come your way once you start a feedback conversation.
Bonus: Structure your feedback with the EPIQ Feedback Model
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I consider these to be pointers – not absolute rules. They have been helpful to me and others in environments that promote self-management and peer feedback.
Effective feedback can be far more complicated to structure than it may seem. I’ve distilled my approach to feedback in the EPIQ Feedback Model to help make giving feedback (and receiving it) easier. So please take a look and, if you like it, grab your free copy of my EPIQ Feedback Model Worksheet there.
What pointers, tips, and personal guidelines do you have? Please drop me an email or leave a comment. I’d love to learn from you!
Thanks for reading!