Why You Should Leave I Out of Feedback

Tanner Christensen
Sep 23, 2016 · 3 min read

If you want to be a better collaborator, there’s an interesting exercise you can use that is both challenging to do and immensely rewarding. It’s as simple as this: when giving or responding to feedback, avoid using the word “I.”

We tend to rely on the use of I as a way of communicating quickly and easily without having to back up our claim, or having to think critically about the feedback we’re giving in the first place.

This subtle shift in communication is immensely valuable for junior designers, who are just learning how to collaborate with others. But it’s a technique more senior designers should remember too. Using I in a statement hinders the point you’re trying to make.

The purpose of this exercise is to see just how influential I-based statements can be, and how removing I can change what it is you’re trying to say or even help clarify your statements.

When we reference things from the vantage of I, it tends to cover up or smear what we’re actually trying to say.

Saying “I don’t like this” or “I think that” omits actionable feedback and makes it become a personal statement. Of course we can’t disagree with someone’s personal perspective: it’s theirs, and not wrong from where they’re sitting. This is particularly dangerous for more senior designers who are giving feedback to junior ones, where the typical response to such a claim will not be “Can you explain why?” but instead will be “This is the feedback I’ve been given and this is what I should do, it doesn’t matter why.”

As a result: the conversation is stifled. This is harmful mostly because when we move into that personal space, we avoid the most important part of giving feedback: the rationale.

Sharing rationale is how those with more experience help junior designers learn and grow. It’s how we help instill our design thinking into the team. For more junior designers, giving feedback with rationale is how you validate your thinking; by sharing it clearly and allowing it to get a response.

By removing “I” from your communication and focusing more on sharing rationale, your feedback becomes more concrete, more informative, and better suited for a collaborative context.

Instead of saying “I think this layout won’t work,” you could say: “Consider how this will translate from portrait to landscape and how that change might affect the constraints.”

“I would never click on that link” could be: “People may not be able to see that link because it’s not very prominent among other things on the page.”

Rather than saying “I don’t like the color” you could say: “The red feels really strong here, people might find that alarming.”

The distinction between these types of statements is strong, and it opens the door not only for more conversation, but for more critical analysis of the work being done.

If you want to be a better collaborator and improve the way you give and receive feedback, try removing any mention of I from what it is you want to say. Of course, the best feedback should come in the form of a question, where it leaves room for discussion. But in the move to giving better feedback when we’re collaborating with peers, a fun challenge to try is removing I from anything you have to say.

For more insight onto how to really improve your feedback, read this next: Four Things Working at Facebook Has Taught Me About Design Critique

Thanks to Jasmine Friedl

Tanner Christensen

Written by

Product Designer, author, developer. Never not working.

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