Sunday, April 20, 2008

Giving feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is difficult.

Umm... well. That's not exactly correct. Giving feedback is easy. Giving constructive feedback is difficult.

For now, let’s focus on giving feedback

In my team blog, I used the example of one of my team members getting me coffee. It was meant in jest, but I won't use his name here... Let’s use that as an example in giving/receiving feedback.

Adrian: Hey Jerry… I want to talk to you about something. The coffee thing isn’t working for me. You’re not satisfying my requirements. The coffee is frequently too hot, and you’re always late with it. I’m really annoyed with you.
Jerry: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I always get that seam thing right… well, most of the time. And I can’t control the heat of coffee. And I’m not late with it. You must be delirious. I’m doing the best I can. I’m better at getting coffee than David was.
Adrian: Come on, I know you can do better. Please, let’s get that coffee thing fixed.

What’s wrong with this dialog - everything?

No. There is something good here…. There is a bit of specificity in the feedback. There are three things brought up here… the heat of the coffee, delivery timing, and the seam facing the right way.

There are many things wrong with the dialog. Adrian is making several common mistakes.

Adrian should give positive as well as negative feedback. We tend to speak up when something is wrong and focus on what’s wrong. We should find opportunities to give positive feedback in relation to the negative feedback. So something like

Adrian: Hey Jerry… Thanks for getting me coffee. The other day when I got in, I was so rushed and needed to get off to a meeting; it was nice to have my coffee right here ready to go. It made a huge difference in my day that day. One thing I’ve been meaning to mention – it seems to be too hot sometimes. Last Thursday, it burned the roof of my mouth. Was there something specific you did that day that caused it to be hotter than usual? Is there some way that we can get the temperature down a bit?
Jerry: Gee, I don’t know. It may be that you got it that day right when I returned from the coffee shop. I can’t control the temperature of the coffee they serve, but perhaps I could get some ice cubes and have them available for you. Would that work? Or perhaps if you called when you are 10 minutes away from work, I can get the coffee then, so the coffee has some time to cool.
Adrian: Those are great suggestions. I hadn’t thought of ice cubes. Don’t worry about getting them for me; I’ll just get one and pop it in if it’s too hot.

Notice the difference in the tone of the conversation. Adrian and Jerry are collaborating in finding a way to get the heat of the coffee right. Also – Adrian is being much more specific.

It is critical in giving feedback to find instances where the results were not acceptable. “Last Thursday” provides a very specific example that Jerry can think back to. Last Thursday is also relatively timely. We’re not talking about last month.

The coffee being “always late” is clearly not accurate. Again, by providing specific examples and focusing on the behavior or results rather than the person, you are more apt to get the results you seek.

Here are some attributes of effective feedback:

• Specific – rather than general. With specific examples.
• Sharing impact. Why is the behavior a problem? What was the impact of the poor performance to the team, to the company, etc.?
• Timely – both in relation to the incident/behavior, and in terms of the recipient’s receptiveness (e.g. not when the person is on their way out the door or troubleshooting a high priority production issue).
• Focused on the behavior, not the person

There are more, but this is a start.

Next time, I'll address receiving feedback.

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