Feedback is a very catchy word nowadays, everyone is talking about it, but using it in a way that brings actual value is an art. An art that can and should be mastered as it really does make a difference. In its essence, it’s just any information you get about yourself - how hard can it be?! Well, it can be very hard to deal with feedback and this is why, based on what I’ve experienced and read, I want to give you a few tips and tricks that will help you master the art of feedback.
When I think of what is the most impactful factor that influenced me and my personal (not only professional) development since I’ve joined Netguru, one thing that comes to my mind is feedback. Feedback is all around you in Netguru, our culture is based on it, we can say that we breathe feedback. But what does it mean?
I’ve worked as a Project Manager at Netguru for a bit over a year now, but I feel that I’ve learned and developed more during that time than ever before. This is because, for the first time in my professional life, I’ve started getting regular advice based on my weaknesses and strengths, and that advice does not come solely from my leader but also from everyone who works with me.
It was not easy at the beginning, I was super stressed when I had to give feedback to my colleagues. I did not feel competent to do so, I felt that I had to grade them - I couldn’t be more wrong! Now I know that I just didn’t know HOW to give it. Before my first evaluation meeting with my leader I was very nervous. I knew that I was evaluated by all the people who worked with me and I was afraid that I was not good enough and made millions of mistakes. And that meeting was a real game changer. I got a lot of encouragement and kind words - but also I got a list of REALLY good pieces of advice, based on my skills and competences. I was able to look back, understand what are the areas where I still need to improve, what are my strengths that I can develop further, and what are my blind spots.
Once I understood the importance of feedback, I started mastering the art of it. As a Project Manager, you work with a lot of people, and those people count on you in order to give them feedback and help them grow. One of the books that helped me to improve my feedback skills the most is Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen and most of the tips included in this article come from it.
Below, I’ve prepared a few tips about how to both give and receive feedback. I tried them and I can say with all confidence: feedback is not just a buzzword, it can be a life changer. As you may notice the part of the article about receiving is wider - just rotate it 180° and you’ll know how to give it. The best way to give good feedback is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
1. Never emotional but better sooner than later - easy to say, huh? This is a tricky one. You had an unpleasant disagreement with someone at work and you’re eager to give them feedback RIGHT NOW. Wait. Go for a walk, wait one day, calm down and think of the actual content of that feedback. What is it that made you mad? Focus on the facts and write them down - it will help. On the other hand, do not wait too long as the feedback may be outdated and not relevant anymore.
2. Not only when asked - at Netguru we give feedback to each other once a quarter, and this is often a cause of struggles as you may not remember a very valuable piece of information, or you may not have time to share that feedback once you’re asked. Just go and give that feedback now, don’t wait. That will allow the feedback receiver to improve his/her quality of work now - not in 3 months’ time.
3. In person - always the best way, but the hardest one. Trust me - giving feedback in person will make you prepare. Sitting in front of the other person and telling them what are the improvement areas in their work is super hard, but makes the biggest difference.
4. Talk about facts and give examples. Your behaviour on the calls is always unprofessional - this is not feedback, this is simply an opinion. During the last call with the client you used offensive language and you did not prepare the demo you were supposed to show. This made me feel anxious and the client might have taken it as unprofessional. Next time, try not to use such words and reserve some time to prepare.- sounds better, right? Also, avoid phrases such as: always, never, usually - instead list the exact situations.
5. Give real life advice. If you see that someone is struggling with time management, try to not only highlight it in your feedback, but give suggestions about how to improve it in the future - for example send them a link to a series of articles written by a fellow Project Manager from Netguru, Zuzanna Wiler (How To Manage Your Time While Working As A PM? 10 Hands-On Tips on How to Make Your Calendar and Inbox Great Again, How to Manage Your Time While Working As A PM? 10 Ways How Slack Can Help You With Your Daily Work and How to Manage Your Time While Working As A PM? 13 General Rules That Will Make A Master of Time Management In No Time). Try to be helpful: listing areas to improve without any proper advice on HOW to improve them won’t make a difference.
6. Talk about emotional reactions you had in certain situations. If someone is acting in a way that makes you feel undermined do not tell them that they are being arrogant - tell them that their actions make you feel left out and list those actions. That person may simply not see that there are such reactions to their behaviours. However, remember that they’re not responsible for your emotions - you are. Make sure not to blame them, simply list areas to improve.
7. Adjust your feedback to the current situation. Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen highlights that there are different types of feedback and it is important not to mix them and understand the difference between appreciation, coaching, and evaluation:
Let’s look at this example: you’ve just finished a huge project, it was long and tiring for everyone in it. You’re giving feedback to one of the developers: You should focus more on estimations next time, and look more at the business perspective and here are a few tips (...). This is 100% valid feedback, focused on facts, and containing advice - so what’s wrong with it? That developer may think: So I did a lot of work, we delivered a product, and all I get is a list of things I did wrong? That was not your intention, but this is what the other person will feel like if you choose the wrong type of feedback. The example above is of an evaluation, and what is really needed after such a big achievement is appreciation (a simple GOOD JOB would be more appropriate at that time).
8. Help others work on what's in their blind spot - what others see but the person who is receiving feedback does not. Each of us has a set of behaviours that may have a negative impact on others and we do not know or realise that we have them - this is the blind spot. What works when someone is not seeing their blind spot is giving them feedback on the go. Whenever you see that they are doing the undesirable thing, tell them, right there, right now - they will be grateful, and they will be able to understand the factors that cause that behaviour.
9. The most important lesson is - it is not about WHO YOU ARE. We tend to think less of ourselves when receiving negative feedback. It impacts our vision of who we are. It is crucial to understand that this is not about us, as a person, but about the influence of our actions and behaviours so that we may change. Others’ views of you are an input, not an imprint.
10. Ask the right questions. At Netguru we gather feedback mostly via Google forms. And trust me - we do get A LOT of them. Usually, there are very similar questions being repeated, and if we’re looking for a certain kind of advice (for example we were working on a specific topic for the last quarter, such as sprint planning, and we want to know if there was any effect of it) we make sure to state our question clearly. Do not ask: did my actions improve sprint planning? Instead ask: did you notice any kind of improvements that I’ve implemented lately. Make sure that the feedback giver will think of the feedback in the improvements area, but do not give them a ready answer.
11. Even if poorly written - it may be useful. Schedule a call with the giver and ask follow-up questions. Ask for examples, how it influenced others, what were the emotions caused by the situation - dig deeper and you’ll get to the core of that feedback.
12. Understand the relation between you and the giver - try to keep the relationship trigger outside the equation. When you get feedback about your weaknesses from the person you yourself consider unprofessional and unfit for their job, you tend to think that they are not the right person to tell you that and you dismiss it. In such situations, try to put that person out of the equation and look at the content of the feedback only. Trust me, you’ll find value there.
13. Understand what is the real matter of the feedback. Make sure you’re not starting a blame game. When you have a close relationship with the feedback giver, you may tend to think that the feedback they gave was about your relationship, not about some flaw or behaviour. Look at the system while receiving feedback. Take a step back and understand what are your roles, what are the processes between yourselves, and if that feedback is solely for you, or also other factors influencing your relationship.
14. Look for patterns. If you can see that some aspects are being repeated in feedback you receive, even though you may not agree with it, most probably the root cause will be something about your behaviour.
15. It’s okay not to take feedback. It may just not be the time to hear how good you are at sewing and cooking - you want to hear how about how you performed during workshops with a client. Be appreciative, but tell the giver that you do not really need that feedback right now. Maybe you just had a huge fire in your project, you need to act fast and find solutions, and someone is telling you what actions cause it. This is not the time. Now you need to find a solution. Invite that person to an After Action Review, but be clear about WHEN is the time for that feedback.
Feedback can make you and others grow.
Use this tool to grow those around you, help them understand what they’re good at, and help them use this to their advantage. You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve as a group if you really DO give each other feedback. At Netguru we’re constantly growing as an organisation and I believe that feedback is one of the factors that is making this possible.
Understand that you’re not fixed once for all - you can change and improve. And feedback is the best tool to do it. Take a little step outside your comfort zone and this will be the moment when you start stretching your capabilities.
And don’t take it personally.