Giving Actionable, Specific and Kind Feedback
Feedback is a necessary component of life. On the biological level, pain is a useful source of feedback to avoid all sorts of dangers. In a workplace, feedback can be the difference between a new employee being discouraged, burdensome and unproductive or becoming a joyous, productive and contributive member of a team.
Think back on your experience with feedback though. How much of it do you remember, let alone remember being good? The trope about millennial craving feedback is probably true and I know that good feedback has been enormously helpful in my professional, personal and faith life. So no matter your context as a manager or spouse or parent, this is probably an applicable and useful skill. Yet I find, admittedly anecdotally, that most people are feedback illiterate.
Disclaimer: I learned much of the core concepts I am about to share from my time at DevBootcamp so props to the team over there. And I have applied it ever since with joy and to much success.
The Goal of Feedback
It is good to start with the goal of feedback before going through a framework for giving it. The working goal: A giver of feedback is stating a concise item of review intended to be received by the recipient for their betterment, so that future interactions between the recipient and others may be more pleasant and/or productive.
Tricky to define, “good” feedback. The best framework I have found was shared while I went to DevBootcamp, they believed in educating the whole person not just a skill-set. We practiced feedback regularly and this is what they defined as “good” feedback.
Note: All these examples are pieces of feedback I have actually received.
Actionable. Feedback needs to be actionable. Avoid vague adjectives like “bad” or “good,” if I cannot take steps to immediately act on your feedback it isn’t going to be useful in accomplishing the goal of my betterment.
“Your focus on organization (writing todo lists, status updates) slows down our work together” instead of “I don’t like how you work.”
Specific. Feedback needs to be specific enough that I can actually come up with steps to change in response to the feedback. If the feedback is too general it does not help in the recipient’s betterment in ways that make more pleasant and productive interactions in the future.
“When working with you I would feel more comfortable if you slowed your speech and explained technical concepts more thoroughly because I have little experience in that realm.” Instead of: “You don’t communicate well”
Kind. This one should be most obvious but often is the last consideration for many that are giving feedback (especially anonymously). Be kind. Remember the goal of feedback. Hard to receive feedback that I want to take for my betterment when I’m too busy dealing with the emotional hurt from an unkind item of feedback.
Here is my own addition to the framework, more of an underlying assumption that helps set up feedback to accomplish its goal.
Consensual. Feedback should always be an invited item of communication. Just think of the last time you received un-asked-for advice from a family member.
Try it out. Feedback given in this way is receivable which means as a giver of feedback you’ll get more desirable outcomes. Giving good feedback is not an on/off switch, it is a muscle that needs to be exercised and trained and nurtured, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to give good feedback.
Best wishes as you nurture this skill, you won’t regret it :)