How to give better feedback

It’s hard to give good feedback. Whether you shy away from arguments, or you’re very judgemental, it’s easy to fall into a trap where nothing changes.

The better feedback framework I picked up in The Knowledge Project episode featuring Jeff Hunter helps. I immediately took notes and tried it out. I have to say: This method works every single time.

That’s because it shifts focus from the blame and apology game to how both parties perceived what happened. It’s a conversation to find the gap between what we expected to happen and what happened.

So what is Jeffs framework to deliver better feedback?

1. What does good mean?

The first step is to agree on what good is. Don’t just stick to your view of things but have a conversation. Ignore what went wrong for now and get to where you want to be.

For example: “We must limit the number of website outages and keep the actual downtime to a minimum.”

2. Talk about your experience.

Now that we’ve reached an agreement on what good was supposed to be, it’s time to talk about where your experience fell flat. Don’t blame them for what happened; explain your experience gap.

In our feedback example: “Every time the website goes down for maintenance we have to pause our campaigns. It hinders with our bid automation. I also feel as if the downtime is longer than it should be”.

3. Let them talk about their experience.

Now it’s their turn to explain how they experienced the gap between what happened and what was supposed to happen. You’re not looking for quick apologies. Ask for the reasons why they made these choices. Keep your remarks to yourself for a few moments.

Example: “It’s easier for us not to switch off individual systems as we upgrade. We want our servers to run the latest software so we can keep everything safe.”

4. Identify the gap to give better feedback.

In this is the phase where we talk about what we can do to get both of our experiences more in sync with each other. There was a gap between what we both agreed as good, and what one or both parties experienced as vital. You want to identify that gap and why it happened. That’s the actual feedback you’re trying to deliver.

You’re not adversaries; you’re not accusing anyone of anything. You opened up and had empathy for their point of view. You’re now working to find a way to stop the problem from occurring in the future.

So why does this lead to better feedback?

I’ll quote Jeff on that:

One, you’re very explicit about what you believe is something somebody else needs to know. Two is you’re being open-minded about what could be missing. Three, you’re conducting the feedback in a way that a person feels enlisted in the process. It’s not an accusation; it’s an attempt to discover what is true.

Jeff Hunter in The Knowledge Project

I’ve had issues with delivering feedback for a long time. I’ve mostly been too aggressive — some call it Radical Candor — or avoided giving it — some call it chickening out. I’m amazed by how a simple framework like this changes everything.

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