How to Give Feedback to Others

Phil Busch

Working with others can be very challenging. We all have expectations of our colleagues. Some of those expectations are explicit and written, and some are implicit. Some of them may be things we set collaboratively, such as a team working agreement. Other expectations may be set by leaders in our organization. No matter what those expectations are, or who set them, one thing is for sure. At some point or another, we'll miss an expectation that a co-worker has for us, or they will miss an expectation we have for them.

When one of our co-workers misses an expectation we have of them, it is important to handle the situation appropriately. If something has been missed, we need to be comfortable enough to give feedback to that individual. We can't let it fester, as that can lead to further misunderstanding. Our colleagues are people we maintain relationships with. All good relationships require open communication from both parties.

You're probably wondering if giving feedback is your job. Even if your job title does not include the word manager, you're almost certainly accountable for an outcome that you and your co-workers produce. Talking through the bumps in the road is just part of producing software.

So now that we've established that giving feedback is everyone's job, how exactly does one go about doing that? Here are a few tips:

Go somewhere private

Think about a time someone gave you negative feedback about your work. Depending on the feedback, it might have been hard to listen to. If you're going to deliver a message to someone that may be hard for them to hear, it is best to do it somewhere private. A conference room with a door, a walk outside away from others, or a private video call are some places that can work well. What is most important is that you will not be interrupted by others in this location.

Be specific

If you're going to tell someone that you believe they are doing something incorrectly, it is best to have a specific incident or two as you talk through how your expectation was not met. Preparing these examples is often good for both parties. Thinking of some examples can help you validate that the missed expectation is legitimate. The individual receiving the feedback can use the examples to relate to the decisions they have made and iterate on how they are approaching those types of situations.

Explain the impact of their action

In addition to specific examples, you'll want to explain the impact of their action as well. There should be a reason that you would want this person to change how they are acting. That is at least one of the ways that their behavior is impacting your team. There may be others as well. Explaining them can help the individual receiving the feedback understand why they should change how they are behaving.

Have an open dialog

Communication in a relationship is a two-way street. Be sure to keep that in mind! This is a conversation you're having, not a finger-wag at the person you're talking to. Be sure to ask them how they feel about the feedback, and if they agree with your assessment. Listen to what they have to say - they may have feedback for you. This can help build understanding between both of you, and lead to a stronger relationship going forward.

Move forward

Once you give the feedback, talk about what the next steps look like. Then, move forward. There's no use sitting on the mistakes of the past as you've worked with the other individual to confront them.

Acting on feedback is one way that we all grow. You're doing your peers a disservice if you aren't all helping each other get better.

I hope you've found these tips for giving feedback helpful. If you're looking for more, reading up on feedback models, such as COIN, is a great next step.

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