A Friendly Guide to Giving Feedback
A fellow coworker told me that feedback is like a gift: You cannot choose to receive it, but it is your choice when and how to unwrap it.
I’ve been told that you should still be thankful even if the feedback you receive is not perfect. It’s the effort that counts. And probably next time you should give something in return.
This analogy was the result of me asking coworkers for feedback on an article about feedback. Thank you for the nice gift, Nina. Like giving a gift, feedback is a highly important part of communication between clients, coworkers, family and friends.
In this short article I will focus on how to give feedback during and after projects.
In a broader perspective, feedback is not only essential for your projects, it can also be used to change your company culture.
Creating a feedback culture
As corporate warriors or start-up radicals, most of us fear evaluations, reviews and debates. They’re seen as tedious barriers towards a better result. So why should we start a feedback culture?
Feedback enables us to enter an iterative approach in our work by building onto new inspirations.
If your project is straightforward and repetitive, you probably don’t need an elaborate feedback culture. But as soon as you create something new or are in a high stress environment, feedback can be the key to success.
In order to build this culture, I would like to outline my best practices for giving and receiving feedback. I’m curious on your thoughts and best practices, so I’m looking forward to your feedback in the comment section.
Looking for feedback
1. Do it early
Feedback helps you to develop and spin a thought or an idea. The earlier you ask for feedback, the more you can incorporate it into your creative process and build on it. People are also more willing to provide feedback at an early stage – fidelity can scare your partner to present their true opinion.
Hands-on: As soon as you have a first draft, ask people for feedback. Keep the draft as simple as possible.
2. Everybody can help
I like getting feedback from people who are not part of the project I’m working on: from our interns who speak completely free of restraints, to my friends over a glass of wine, I am always surprised how we as experts in our domain can forget the simplest things.
Hands-on: Look for people who will challenge you and not yeasayers. Keep a network of challengers around you.
3. Provide framing
Introduce the project and present in a short statement, with an idea of what kind of feedback you are looking for. Are you looking for thoughts on design, or on the general idea behind it? Framing the feedback session will make the process more efficient and reduces frustrations.
Hands-on: Say “I’m looking for feedback on a high level. How do you like the general layout? Please ignore the icons and stock photos.”
4. Don’t justify
Don’t waste your time (or indeed that of your partner) by justifying your approach. If you disagree with an opinion, take the time to understand their perspective and decide after the session if you want to include their feedback or not.
Hands-on: Say: “Why did you feel like this. Can you help me to understand your opinion?”
5. Be thankful
Always be thankful that somebody took the time to give you feedback. Even if it is their job. And yes, even if they did not provide the feedback you were looking for. Giving feedback needs time to practice, so be the person who provides the room for it.
Hands-on: Take your feedback partner for lunch or a coffee in order to show them your appreciation. It’s simple and it works.
6. Take time to deconstruct and prioritize
When I am in a feedback session, I try to focus on listening and noting down the feedback. Taking notes is also a way of showing your appreciation. Do definitely take the time afterwards to map all the different feedbacks on your concept and prioritize the iterations. In doing so, you avoid tedious fixing of minor issues and focus on the bigger picture.
Hands-on: Map out your feedback on your draft. What will have the biggest impact? Quickly rank them. Subsequently estimate the time to implement them and start with the quick but powerful iterations.
1. Find out the fidelity stage of your partner
If your feedback partner just started with a project, focus on the general idea or outline and try to suppress the ever-pushing need to correct grammar, spelling or other minor details. Yes, this has to change, but for iterative working focus first on the bigger picture.
Hands-on: As a feedback partner, ask for what kind and what kind of level of feedback your partner is looking for.
2. Be specific
We often forget to explain the reasons behind our feedback and just provide a common “I don’t like this”. Take the time to explain your reasoning, your experience on the subject and try to find a pattern so you enable your partner to learn with your feedback.
Hands-on: Instead of saying “change the headline!” extrapolate the pattern behind it and explain what a good headline is for you.
3. Provide enough time
This seems simple, but in my experience we rarely have the time to dig deep into feedback, incorporate all the suggestions or just reflect on the project. We are used to finishing just in time, holding onto our perfection. As with asking for feedback, demand that you provide feedback early on. If you are project manager, plan for a reflection session after the project.
Hands-on: Our mantra in the office is that the project is only done once all the feedback is gathered – not with the final deadline.