Basic feedback

I was running a course for agile team facilitators and coaches and we discussed “giving feedback.”  It turned out that everybody was giving feedback but some of the crew were not confident that they were doing it well.

I mentioned this to the crew in another course and people again mentioned that this was a basic, but difficult skill.

So I thought I would publish the simple patterns that we agreed might be useful.

Step 1 for all feedback

The first step is to ask yourself “why am I giving this feedback?”

If you are giving feedback for one of these reasons then you are not really providing feedback:

  • I want the person to like me;
  • I want to be mean to them;
  • I am bored and just want to say something to start a conversation;
  • I want to demonstrate how much I know and that I am really clever.

If you are giving feedback for the other person to consider and potentially act on, then you are giving feedback.

What to avoid

For someone reason I sometimes apologize for giving feedback.  I say something like “this is not a big thing but …”

Saying good job

Giving positive feedback should be pretty easy, but for some reason people can still struggle with it.

I grew up in a strange culture where you were not really meant to complement people too much (we called people who were too kind “suck-ups” and we called people who were too proud “gits”).

So when someone said “good job” there was a chance they actually meant the opposite.

Hopefully you are a bit more sensible than me.  But I still find that I do not really want people to make a really big deal of me doing something nice.  So keeping it simple is best.

But some of the people also mentioned that they would sometimes get feedback like “you are really super awesome” and they would not know what to do with that advice.

So here is the simple pattern that we all thought would work well

Thank you for doing [that]   or I noticed that you [did this]

It was great because

  • It aligned with this value; or
  • It helped someone in this way

For example – Thanks for cleaning up after the workshop, it helped me get home early at the end of the day.  Or – That was a good email, it was a good example of  listening to our stakeholders and accepting their feedback.

Keeping it simple, focusing on one thing and giving an authentic reason makes the feedback more useful.

Saying you did not like something

I am better at saying “that was annoying” but other people mentioned things that did not work – for example waiting until you have heaps of evidence that the person did something wrong and then dumping it all on them at one time.

Another problem people mentioned was that some feedback providers were not owning the feedback.  Instead they were saying something like “other people might think you did something wrong.”  But this makes it hard to act on what has been said and also makes the feedback provider seem dodgy.

So here is the simple pattern that you can use:

I observed this [thing]

It had this impact

(be quiet and listen to what they say)

If the conversation continues then focus on the future and in almost all cases accept their explanation.

The secret is to only comment on one thing and to only state what you observed.  That makes it a statement of fact and the other person can dispute it or accept it.  Do NOT say “You were late for the meeting because you don’t respect us” or use any other sentence with the word “because” in it.  As soon as you try to explain the thinking of the person rather than the action you enter the wrong conversation.  You don’t know why they did something you just know if it happened.

This pattern keeps things simple and also allows the receiver to assess how important the feedback is.

Saying that you disagree with what someone said

Apparently it is generally not a good idea to say “you are a fool and that view is completely stupid.”  I guess you knew that.

Nor is it good to say that you agree with them “But…”   In fact the word but is often interpreted as “ignore what i said before the word but, what I really mean is what I say next.”

BUT – you do need to say you disagree and again it is better to say it directly rather than making things too complicated.  Here is the format you can use:

That is not my view.

I think (my view)

And this is how I came to form that view (some simple reason)

What led you to a different view?

So you have said you disagree and you gave a simple reason.  Now you let the person explain themselves.  The secret here is to listen to their reasoning, rather than trying to prove them wrong.  Once they explain their thinking you will often find you agree on some common ground or that, since you were respectful, the other person is OK with the fact that you have different views.

One tip though – only give one reason that you disagree.  If you give a long list of reasons then the person will generally only listen to your weakest argument and they will then jump on that point.  This will often lead to you wanting to repeat one of your other points and then you will be playing “opinion ping pong” with both you and them simply listing points rather than exploring each other’s thinking..

Simple feedback is probably not the most sophisticated tool in your toolkit, but it is one of the most effective.  So see if you can give some simple feedback to someone today – and let me know what you think of my unsophisticated conclusions 🙂



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