If you look up the word feedback in a dictionary, there are a lot of definitions. And the one I was looking for didn’t even top the list.
First, the dictionary covered feedback in terms of electronics, where the terms negative feedback and positive feedback are constructive terms.
The next definition was pretty over my head. Something about data and machines and automatic control devices…
The third listing was just what I was looking for: A reaction or response to a particular process or activity.
Most of us are familiar with this definition. If you have been in charge of creating something or leading a project, you have received criticism and advice from your team.
And the conversation always leads off in the same way: “Here’s my feedback.”
As a writer, I’m constantly creating content at the office and leading projects. Yet nothing makes me cringe more than the phrase “I want to give you my feedback on this.”
I can take criticism with the best of them. Just ask any former supervisor of mine and they’ll say that I take negative comment about my work surprisingly well. My poker face never flinches even if they’ve hurt my feelings or really pissed me off.
I want to roll my eyes when you say “feedback” because it means I have to prepare myself for a negative conversation. Because saying “feedback” is your polite way of telling me that you don’t have anything nice to say about the work.
Think about it. How many conversations have you had about giving feedback where the reactions were mostly, if not all, positive?
Close to slim.
And I know the conversation is going to have a negative tone before you do. That’s because I’m aware of the definition of feedback: A reaction or response to a particular process or activity. That means you’ll either have a negative response or a positive response.
A positive response wouldn’t be able to contain the excitement. The good news wouldn’t wait for the conference door to close behind you before starting the discussion.
A negative response needs to cushion the blow. And that’s why we start these dreaded conversations with “let me give you my feedback.”
The worst part is what you say right after your “feedback” introduction: “I like it, but A, B, C, D, E….”
That’s like your sweetheart saying to you, “I like you, but I’m head over heels in love with your arch nemesis.”
The problem with these conversations isn’t because you use the word “feedback.” If you said, “here’s my response to your blog post” or “I want to give you my reaction on this project,” I’d still want to groan.
Feedback isn’t the issue. How you plan to conduct the conversation is.
Your plan is to dump all your negative feelings on this person and let them figure out how to fix it. While you can argue that it is the person’s “job” to find a better solution, it’s also your job to be a better teammate.
Saying the word “feedback” instantly puts you in the mindset to list off your dislikes. So shift your goal for what you want to accomplish in the conversation so that it is a positive experience.
At the end of the day, you want the project to be so good it’s practically perfect. Great projects are the result of great ideas. So why not approach the conversation like a brainstorm session?
Ask them questions like:
- What goals were you trying to achieve when creating this?
- What was your thought process?
- What problems did you need to address?
- How do you think you solved these problems with this work?
- What do you think of your work so far?
You may be surprised to find that they are also concerned about the issues you found when reviewing the work.
But don’t jump in with “I thought so too!” Now it’s time to uncap your whiteboard marker and get to work. With the issues out in the open, ask them how they think they should solve it. They might already be on to something or they might need your ideas—not feedback—to get to the right solution.
Because when you make this conversation an actual conversation and not a pessimistic monologue, they see that you genuinely have their back. They’ll want to come to you to build up future projects because they trust in you and think that you truly care about the project and them as a human being.
That’s my feedback on that.
What do you think? Should we rethink how we approach feedback? Share your ideas below.