Feedback,  Leadership

What to think about when it comes to feedback

While Spotify, contrary to popular belief is very hierarchical (6 layers from CEO to developer), it is also true that we value peer feedback and self management for each of these layers. I’ve written a post about why peer feedback is important, here’s a link to it if you want to read it.

In one of the feedback workshops I facilitate, participants go through “what to think about when considering to offer someone feedback”. The following 7 points are repeatedly mentioned and I’ve been using them as my own personal pointers with success. I’m sharing 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 you want to offer this feedback?”. Is it to improve your working relationship with someone? Is it because you disagree with someones choices, style, or behaviour? Or is it perhaps something else?

Tip – 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 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 will 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.

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 loose it’s 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.

Tip – Ask yourself if your feedback would sound differently if it was offered to someone you cared deeply about.

4 – Be lean and precise.

How long is your feedback? Are you explaining a lot of, or any, context before you share your observation and the consequence? 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 context and you are up to it that’s great but your goal is to help the other person understand what his or her behaviour resulted in and how that affected your relationship.

5 – Describe the person’s behavior, don’t judge her.

Feedback should be about observable behaviour but too often it is clouded by labels and judgements. Often this is not intentional, it is because it is difficult to see past our filters but if you want to be successful at delivering feedback your feedback needs to be about behaviour.

Feedback that starts with “You” likely contains labelling and is judgemental. Here are examples of such feedback:

  1. “You were impulsive in yesterdays standup and that’s frustrating. Please think about what you want to say.”
  2. “You talk too much, you should talk less otherwise people will stop listening to you.”
  3. “You’re too sensitive, you won’t last if you start crying everytime I disagree with you.”
  4. “Your solution was bad, you really need to learn how our systems work!”
  5. “You take up too little space…”
  6. “You’re such a…
  7. “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 behaviour and consequence described instead:

  1. In yesterdays standup you interrupted me twice and changed the topic. As a result I lost my trail 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 go around feeling bad working together?

Tip – Ask someone neutral that you trust e.g. coach or manager for feedback on your feedback before you offer it.

6 – Maintain your relationship and check how your feedback was understood.

When feedback givers deliver unclear feedback the receivers behaviour does not change. Alternatively the receiver changes something unintended. In both cases the relationship could be damaged. This is a problem because 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 make sure that your feedback was correctly understood and that it didn’t damage your relationship? Well.. You could always ask?

Tip – Ask the person how she feels about the feedback, and how the feedback affected your relationship. 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 take aways?”
  • “How would you summarise the feedback I have given you?”

7 – Be ready to receive feedback.

Whenever you offer someone feedback they might want to return the favour. Are you ready to get feedback from the other person? If not, you should consider waiting with offering her your feedback.

Form your own personal guidelines.

As I mentioned in 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.

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! 🙂

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One Comment

  • Marcin

    That’s a useful and concise sum up of what’s important. Thanks! I would add that it’s worthwhile talking about the needs (what I need, what you need) if it’s relevant. Thanks to this we can also avoid giving opinions and better understanding things when giving or receiving feedback.


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