Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is very valuable. It helps people grow and situations improve. Keeping quiet and saying nothing when you see something wrong is not good. But it can be a challenge to give the feedback constructively, just as it can be a challenge to be strong enough to receive feedback.

How to Give Feedback

  • Check your motivation. I don’t think this is an issue much in our team, but its worth doing to help frame the feedback regardless. Your goal should be to improve the person, so they can grow and develop as a result. Reminding yourself of this can help frame your response.
  • Tackle the issue, not the person. As soon as you attack the person their guard is going to go up and they are less likely to listen to what you are saying. If you are giving feedback to improve a person or a situation you will probably fail in your mission.
  • Be respectful. Feedback delivered well will be welcomed from the other person.
  • Be Open, Honest and Direct – I had to sneak that in somewhere for eBay folks!  ;-)
  • Start with asking questions. (“Seek first to understand, then be understood” – 7 habits of highly effective people.) Make sure you understand the context of what the person is talking about.
  • Think about when to give the feedback. Do you think someone will be receptive right before a deadline? Maybe wait until they are under less time pressure after the deadline. If they are not going to listen, is it worth giving the feedback? Maybe just let them know there is an issue that you want to discuss with them later.
  • Think also about where to give feedback. Should you give it in a public forum with lots of people around? Or in private? Sometimes I give it in public because I don’t have time to do it in private (I am thinking sprint review meetings here). Or because I want the whole team to know the why (e.g. quality is important). But I need to be especially careful in such cases. Frequently, especially with peers, its better to wait until after the meeting and do it privately.

How to Receive Feedback

  • Listen. This can actually be hard. Is the person talking about logical things that make sense? If a personal attack, do your best to filter that out and ignore it. This can be hard. But remember that the person giving the feedback may be doing it good intentions, but lack the skill to do it well. (If so, point them at this posting! ;-))
  • Say “thank you” – those two words is often enough. Be appreciative that someone made the effort to give it.
  • Check with others. It is up to you whether you act on the feedback – remember it could be wrong. Consider checking privately with some other people to see if they agree.
  • Avoid being defensive. This is more about attitude. Be willing to debate the topic based on merits – that is good and healthy – but make sure you understand what the other party is saying and where they are coming from.

Feedback is a very valuable tool. It is always good to see when people provide feedback without the intent to put someone else down. Concepts like egoless programming help too!

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