The Art of Feedback

In this post I would like to talk about another topic that I regard to be vitally important, The Art of Feedback. I tend to find that many people don't provide any proper, valuable feedback which makes it very difficult for them to identify what they did right or wrong. But first, let us start at the beginning.

What is Feedback?

There are multiple definitions for feedback, but for me there is one that really sticks out. It goes along these lines:

Information you receive in response to actions or behaviours you have taken, or have shown others

This was once told to me by a mentor and in the sections below I will go into more detail on why I like this definition so much.

Why Give Feedback?

When you provide feedback, you are giving the individual some valuable information that they can use in order to help them determine the behaviours they need to replicate to achieve successes, as what actions they should avoid. This helps the individual in the form of a personal evaluation, which is critical to success.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to know the truth when it comes to feedback, no matter how difficult it may be to hear. So never be afraid of giving good, constructive feedback...it can only help them become better!

Common Mistakes with Feedback

Before we get into how to provide effective feedback, I just want to list some common mistakes that most people make when providing feedback:

  1. It judges the individual and not their actions
  2. It is vague and of no real use
  3. Negative feedback get sandwiched between positive statements to make it look better
  4. It tries to analyse the motives behind the behaviours
  5. It goes on for too long and the essence gets lost

Effective Feedback

Giving effective feedback may initially seem quite difficult as we are so accustomed to providing people with information that is usually superfluous or questionable. A mentor once told me that whenever you provide feedback, always ensure that your comments are something that could have been recorded on a camera. In this way, you have "hard evidence" of the behaviours and actions that were taken and will leave less room from for disagreement or questioning. This is why I like the definition of feedback above so much.

Scenario Time

Lets say we have a scene where a colleague has just completed a presentation. You go up to them and say "I liked your presentation, but I thought you were a bit unorganized and scared".

This is a typical example of how most feedback is provided and something that you should really try to avoid. The reason is that there are no actions or behaviours which you are basing your feedback on. To go back to the camera analogy, if you had a camera with you during the presentation, you would not be able to film "unorganized" or "scared". Those are subjective to you and a better approach would be to state the actions or behaviours that lead you to that conclusion.

So for example, a better approach would be to say: "Today, when you were presenting the presentation on TDD, I saw that your slides were not flowing from one topic to the next and you seemed to be fidgeting a lot with your hands when you were presenting. It made me feel that you were a bit unorganized and scared."

In this way you are providing context, targeting the actions and if you had a camera with you they could be filmed and replayed. This also reduces any disagreements on the feedback, as you have provided "observable evidence" which is no subjective.

So that wraps up this post. As always, any valuable feedback is always welcome in comments below ;)

In the upcoming posts, we will be taking a look at two techniques which can help you in providing quality, effective feedback.

So until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa