Understanding Feedback — The why, how and when

Even though I have always practiced giving and receiving feedback regularly, I find every feedback session is unique. I tried drawing a mind-map by asking myself three simple questions:

  • Why do I ask for or provide feedback?
  • How do I ask for or provide feedback?
  • When do I ask for or provide feedback?

Why do I ask for or provide feedback?

Feedback is a powerful tool that should not be used for ranting and hence it is crucial to understand the motivation behind sharing feedback.

  • Care: Feedback is a channel to appreciate and provide constructive feedback to people you work with. Feedback is a gift that shows you are invested in the growth of your colleague.
  • Career growth: Feedback is information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement (reference: by oxford). While automation provides instant feedback on how you leveraged your hard skills, people around you help you nurture your soft skills by articulating the impact of your actions in the process called feedback. Here is a popular quote:

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. — Bill Gates

  • Culture: In the manifesto of agile software development one principle states — “Build projects around motivated individuals”. Motivated individuals have the desire and passion to build quality projects. They work together as a highly cohesive team. For any team to achieve this state you need a regular flow of feedback between its team members. This helps cultivate a transparent and flat-organizational culture.

How do I ask for or provide feedback?

Feedback sessions can range from productive to awkward and defensive. It takes a lot of practice to convert uncomfortable situations into inclusive ones. Here are some tools and techniques (borrowed from blogs and experts) which have helped me and my team practice and structure feedback content:

  • Structuring feedback content: I mostly use the PCAR-AR model.

Permission: Always ask for permission before providing or asking for feedback. A person may not be having a great day or might be in a rush.

Context: Start with explaining the context or situation the feedback is about before diving into the action taken.

Action: Now talk about what the person did or said to handle the situation.

Result: Then talk about the impact of the action taken, how did it make you feel or the people feel in the situation.

Example: During yesterday’s client call you bought up the points on stakeholder availability and elaborated its impact on the project. The client has followed up and has committed her availability in all upcoming meetings for this month. I appreciate your approach to the situation.

Alternative Action: You can brainstorm or advise alternative approaches to the situation which would enhance the outcomes.

Result: The result of the alternative action taken by the person receiving the feedback.

Example: Penny during your presentation to the clients, most of your slides were verbose, and I noticed the clients spending more times reading the slides than listening to you. Instead, make your slides lean so they can listen to you over being distracted from the slides.

  • Training: At ThoughtWorks, I have attended a couple of workshops on sharing feedback. In the workshop, we used simple A4 sized sheets to draw a city (or object) and exchanged it with our respective pairs. Then we exchanged feedback about the drawings with our pair and incorporate the feedback we received in the drawings. We did 3 cycles of these, and for every cycle, our facilitators gave us tips such as leveraging the PCAR-AR model, body language, etc to improve our feedback content.

When do I ask for or provide feedback?

Being part of a continuous feedback culture for most of my career I would answer this question in 2 ways:

  • Regularly: Within the team encourage members to schedule feedback sessions regularly.
  • Close to the event: For occasions where appreciation and/or constructive feedback has to be shared it should be done close to the occurrence of the event so context is fresh. Giving some thought before sharing feedback helps eliminate biases and impulsive thoughts.

Ending Thoughts

Feedback is essential for growth and maintaining a healthy culture. Remember:

Feedback is a gift.