Proportional Feedback

When providing feedback, it’s important to acknowledge both positive and negative observations. Oftentimes, we feel too rushed and so confident in what’s working that we fail entirely to mention the positives — the only things that come out of our mouths are negative. If we make a habit of glossing over the good things and only ever pointing out the bad things, we risk spreading a culture of negativity, discouraging people from reaching out for feedback, and bruising egos so badly that we stifle creativity altogether. The oversight of positive feedback also risks sending the wrong message about things that actually worked, thereby wasting everyone’s time down the road when revisions come back having adversely affected the unmentioned positives. We might save a moment now not saying something we feel is obvious or delay, but we risk costing exponentially more moments of the recipient’s work time and our own time later on.

Feedback requires relative context to be constructive. Constructive feedback is most constructive when both positives and negatives can weigh against each other. While the concept of a “shit sandwich” (open with a positive comment to soften the blow of a negative comment before closing the sandwich with another positive comment) in practice can sweeten bad news, the tactic can also help remind you to provide better context for the recipient of your feedback by highlighting things you feel shouldn’t change.

Moreover, it helps to try and deliver positives and negatives proportionally. If you feel the recipient made it really close to the mark, make sure positive points dramatically outweigh critical ones. And while it will suck for both parties, make sure to do the opposite if the recipient landed really far away from the mark.

In short, be honest and complete with your feedback always. Make no assumptions. And deliver feedback as you would prefer to hear it from others. No one likes being ripped apart or beat down by negativity, so don’t be a fool and do that to others. It will backfire on you in the long run.

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