Giving the most effective feedback
Giving the most effective feedback

"I have some feedback for you."

What do you feel when you read those words? Curiosity, or excitement? Perhaps a flicker of worry?

How not to give feedback

Feedback is so easy to get wrong…

Hey Dave, do you have a second? I notice you always change our client briefs at the last second. Legal isn't happy because they need time to review the final words. Can you make sure that doesn't happen again?

Gosh. I felt tense just typing that!

There are so many mistakes here. To list just a few:

  • Dave doesn't have time to prepare to receive feedback.
  • "Legal isn't happy" sounds ominous and threatening.
  • The feedback is vague and does not include specific examples.

Worst of all, the last sentence ends the conversation without opportunity to discuss or problem solve. Dave is probably feeling very defensive.

Poor Dave.

How to give feedback

Inspired by this classic post by Marty Kaplan, we use the following framework at Superhuman:

1. Convey intent

Hey Dave, is now a good time to share some feedback with you?

Before giving feedback, ask if the person is ready to receive it. Most of the time, they are ready. But if they are having a bad day, they can delay. This helps you both: they can take the time to mentally prepare, and you can talk when they are most receptive.

2. Describe observable behavior with data

I've noticed that you change our client briefs very close to the deadline. For example, on Tuesday you rewrote an important section of the brief a few minutes before we were due to send it out.

It is fine to identify behavioral patterns, but also give concrete examples. Telling someone they "often" or "always" do something is vague and can sound accusatory. If you give examples, you can more easily discuss solutions.

3. Describe the impact

This didn't give Legal much time to review the contents. I'm concerned that if this happens again, we could miss our deadline while Legal review the late changes.

Be specific when you describe the impact. Did it affect an individual or a team? Did it cause a missed deadline or sour a client relationship? If you foresee a negative outcome later, you can also note the likely impact.

4. Own your feelings

I felt frustrated because I couldn't understand why these changes came at the last minute. It made me wonder if my expectations weren't clear, or whether I had miscommunicated the deadline.

Share how the behavior made you feel. Give this its own step so that it does not cloud the other steps.

5. Get curious

I'm curious: what do you think is causing these last minute changes? I wonder if there's something that I'm doing which is contributing to this.

Be genuinely curious, and avoid assumptions. In particular, be curious about how you yourself might be contributing to the behavior.

This framework helps us become better faster. When I get feedback from a new hire, I know we're doing something right!