Give honest feedback


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Feedback is a very important part of our professional work. It has enormous impact on your and your subordinates motivation, engagement and of course productivity. Through feedback you can coach, teach and improve the work of your team. Without it, people would not know if their work is valued. They will also improve and self develop at a significantly smaller rate. It is especially important in knowledge and skill based jobs such as programming.

What’s interesting, hard skills feedback is the same or even less important than soft skills. While programming language and related frameworks level of knowledge is important, a developer’s career and personal development are usually halted by one of several factors related to soft skills:

  • communication,
  • social competence,
  • leadership capability,
  • self-organization,
  • capacity for teamwork.

While providing feedback, focus on these areas and you should be able to see results quite fast.

If there are two qualities that your feedback should meet, they are honesty and sincerity. If the first one is not met then you only perform a non-effective  talk that does not provide much value. The person receiving it is given a misleading advice and focuses on the wrong areas. Their time spent on self improvement will not benefit them and their work at a level that could be achieved with honest and thoughtful feedback.

Sincerity is as important as honesty. If your talk is not free from pretense, deceit, and hypocrisy the appraised person can very easily become defensive. In such situations (even if it is not visible for you) most of your words will not be heard and remembered. The feedback will be seen as biased, for example by your bad mood, not taken seriously and to the heart.

You can make your feedback even more valuable by following a set of simple rules:

  • provide it often – sometimes it is good to provide it monthly or even weekly. Situations and tasks are usually fresh in your memory and you are able to deliver a more accurate message. Providing feedback at least quarterly is a must in my opinion,
  • make your feelings cool and stay calm throughout the whole conversation – letting emotions take over your actions, no matter how the opposing side is behaving, will destroy much of the value from your constructive feedback,

calm

  • address specific actions and situations, not a person, its personality and attitude – make sure that the person receiving the feedback will not take it personally. Remember, that only by changing how someone behaves in specific situations can you change their personality. You cannot just simply provide feedback about personality and expect a change,
  • clearly state the scope of the feedback and stick to it – it should be as specific as possible. The bigger the scope is, the more vague the message is and the results are worse,
  • do not out-talk – the message will get less accurate and the most critical issues will be lost in a stream of words,
  • do not compare – comparisons to other people either demotivates or creates pride. You should focus on your interlocutor – what you want them to change and what do they want to accomplish,
  • do not value – talk about how things are and how you would like them to be. Try to not value any beliefs and views but just present them and convince to them.
  • acknowledge differences – it is a common situation that you and the person receiving feedback will differ in opinion. If you cannot convince in a sincere and peaceful way as to the way you see things, acknowledge the differences. The sentence ‘I understand your point and I believe it will work in a typical circumstance’ can do miracles. However, there is one catch: it has to be honest,
  • do not persuade them who is right and who is wrong – the feedback is not about proving anything. Such discussion will make the opposite side defensive.
  • encourage change – appreciate what the person has already done and be encouraging for more. Show true belief that they can change and assure them that you will help as much as you can,
  • get feedback to your feedback and listen to it closely – it is a very important part, both for you and for your interlocutor. Thanks to it you will be able to not only improve your coaching skills but also have an idea as to how your meeting was received.

For the same reason why providing a feedback is very important you should get feedback for yourself as much as possible. Regularly meet with your boss, team members, clients and ask them what they recently appreciated and what they didn’t like about your work. Ask them for areas where they would like to see improvements and what does not work well in their opinion. Make such a practice a habit. However, do not forget to always do something about the input with which you have been provided. Only the actions that follow make the feedback valuable. Without them you might not only lose the opportunity to get meaningful input but also lose credibility.

Mutually honest and sincere feedback is a base for a smooth going cooperation. Except very specific situations and exceptional people it cannot be acquired immediately. It takes a lot of time and effort, so start immediately!

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