Can I ASK You Something?

(How To Give Good Feedback)

One of the things I’ve learned while working at Andela is the art of giving constructive, ASK feedback. A feedback is said to be in the ASK (Actionable, Specific, and Kind) format if it is not vague (ie, if it points the receiver to a particular incident or behaviour pattern, and leaves no room for assumption), if it contains a recommended action the user can take to address the feedback (to curb the errant or maintain the positive behaviour), if it tells the user why the feedback was given, and if it is delivered without prejudice, malice, or any negative mien. Bonus points if it acknowledges something positive the person did previously if you’re giving a negative feedback.

As Nigerians and humans in general, we tend to, more often than not, assume that people can read minds and are able to tell why you are unhappy with them. Let me tell you this: mutants are not real, in as much as I’d have loved to be a flying, laser-shooting, teleporting, telekinetic, telepathic, telephone, television, telegram. Nobody knows why you are unhappy with them or with what they did unless you tell them. Explicitly. Nobody can improve unless they know what they’re improving on.

Now, when you tell them, HOW you do it matters, and that’s where the ASK model comes in. Say I did x thing that Mr N doesn’t like, the normal way he’d alert me to his vexation would be through a series of grunts and half-sentences and lots of “figure it out”s and “are you asking me what you did”s. That helps nobody. That does nothing but worsen the situation and cause nothing productive to be done. Let’s look at the alternative.

Say Mr X now goes “Hi, CJ. I know you try your best to be a good person, and I know you’ve been a great friend to me in the past, especially recently when you tutored me in my CHEM 102 exams, even when you had your own exams to prepare for. You go out of your way to help your friends, and I really appreciate you. However, I feel you could try to be a bit more considerate of other people’s feelings, especially when you’re trying to correct someone when you’re in a mood. Yesterday, you almost drove Samuel to tears by shouting and belittling him for a mistake he made. I think there are better ways to correct someone when they do something wrong that won’t leave them feeling worthless and dejected, and will actually make them want to change for the better. You could try taking a step back from the situation whenever you feel your temper rising and come back when you’ve settled down, maybe after a couple of hours or so. This way you’re not speaking with your emotions, but with your head, and you are able to give constructive advice. In the interim, though, if you agree with me, I feel you should apologise to Samuel as the poor boy has been hiding in his room since morning.”

Let’s break this down.

The feedback is SPECIFIC: while it starts off generalised, talking about how CJ should be more considerate of others’ feelings when in a mood, it narrows it down to a specific incident and moves on from there.

It is ACTIONABLE: it contains actions that CJ can take to curb this particular behaviour. It even goes further to divide the actions into long-term and short-term actions, the short-term action being to apologise to Samuel, and the long-term action being for CJ to remove himself from similar situations in the future until he’s calm enough to give constructive feedback.

It is KIND: it is not delivered in anger, or any negative emotion (something CJ would do well to emulate). It tells CJ why he needs to take the specified actions (to enable him to give constructive feedback that would be followed and to not make the recipient of the feedback feel worthless and dejected). Feedback delivered in anger is less likely to effect a change, rather it could even breed animosity. It is also kind because it starts off listing the good qualities of CJ, how he’s a good friend and how he helped Mr X prepare for his exams even when he had his to prepare for (another great example of specificity). Negative feedback that starts off with a positive feedback is more likely to be accepted.

So, in essence, we should try our very best to not be angry for nothing, to ensure we give feedback that will actually make an impact, and to never again work under the assumption that someone can read our minds.

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