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7 tips on how to give feedback correctly at work

A workshop on feedback was held at Dactyl and we want to share our newly acquired knowledge. In this article, you will learn why we think feedback is important, where we got our inspiration and some tips on how to approach it properly in everyday working life.

Why feedback (FB) is important

FB sets a healthy company culture and maintains good, open relationships between colleagues. It simply pushes individuals to be better at their skills. And it also improves communication within the company and outwards - with clients, for example.

FB is a gift, so the person receiving it should give thanks for it. But they don't have to accept it.  Why do we speak of it as a gift? The person giving it wants to help the other person in a real way. It is important to realize this.

"The provision of FB is important. It lets you and the rest of the team know where you stand. So you don't have to guess what anyone thinks about your work and decisions." (Scott, 2018)

FB in the context of radical openness

Our workshop was based on Kim Scott's book Radical Openness, which represents the intersection between direct confrontation and personal interest. Openness means speaking clearly, humbly, and without presumption. Radical openness conveys not avoiding conflict and uncomfortable situations. For some, it means taking a big step out of your comfort zone.

"Radical openness creates working relationships built on trust and builds a cohesive team that delivers great results." (Scott, 2018)


We will present the scheme using the example of a colleague who has a meeting in a few minutes but has leftover food behind his teeth:  

  • Destructive empathy - I won't say anything, it might be uncomfortable for him (I don't want to hurt).
  • Manipulative dishonesty - I won't say anything, I'd be a jerk (it makes me uncomfortable).
  • Aggressive aggression - I'll warn him quietly and laugh out loud in front of everyone.
  • Radical openness - I will take my colleague aside and warn him quietly.

Why do we have to learn how to give a FB? It's easy...

It may surprise you, but giving FB has its own specifics. If you don't give the FB correctly, you may hurt the other person or lead them to misunderstand and think differently than you intended. That's why we've written down a few tips on how to give the right kind of FB.

7 tips on how to get the right FB

Recommended by 10 out of 10 dactyl mates. 

#1 Use the sandwich method

When giving FB, try to start with specific praise - that specificity is important, see tip #2. Then it's the person's turn to criticize what they've done, not what they are. Finally, add praise. This is called the sandwich method. Of course, you can customize it in a ratio of one praise, one criticism, or more praise, more criticism, the important thing is to start with something positive.

A bad example of the sandwich method is chaos - when you not only start with criticism, but also praise yourself senselessly, e.g. "Karl, you wrote the code wrong, but everything else is great. Hey, the code really needs to be cleaner. Otherwise, you're really cool, dude." We've deliberately overdone it, but you could get into that kind of circle of related sentences.

#2 Be specific

Compare these two situations. The colleagues are chatting in the kitchen after one of them has given a presentation.

  1. "Jani, you are so clever!" says Petra, and Jana just smiles and walks away.
  2. "I liked the way you handled the presentation, it was clear, straightforward, and engaging." 
    Petra says, and Jana thanks her warmly and opens the discussion about her preparation for the presentation.

See the difference? If we're not specific, FB may sound disingenuous. In the second case, the colleague commented on a specific situation and Jana knew exactly what she was being praised for and could respond to it.

#3 Be humble

Before you give someone a FB, always think about whether the person is in a good frame of mind, whether they have time for you and are not doing 5 things at the same time. Be calm and relaxed when you give the FB.

„ ... I don't want to give feedback because I'm afraid I might be wrong." 
"Yes, it is possible, but when you give your opinion, you give the other person the opportunity to point out your mistakes. Feedback clears up misunderstandings on both sides.."  (Scott, 2018)

#4 Don't be personal

Don't criticize personality traits, but behavior. Imagine you have an important meeting with a client and then you meet a colleague at your workplace. 

"So how did I do?" you ask, even though you know it wasn't.
"Well, you're an idiot, you didn't say it right." replies your colleague.

Hmm, I guess you don't learn much from that, plus you feel under the weather. Much better would be this FB:

"So how did I do?" 
"The 'as if' sounded bad in your speech because you used it in almost every sentence."

#5 Suggest a solution

You can lend a helping hand to the other person when there is a problem. Or, if you can't solve the problem, suggest other options. Even if you don't know the solution, give a FB, 
because it is still useful.

#6 Don't put it off

It's better to do FB immediately when it's actual. It usually takes no more than 3 minutes. By procrastinating we forget what we wanted to do, we have to write a list and then revive our thoughts, which is not very efficient.

Ideally, give the FB in person, continuously, and at short intervals. Scheduling, confirming and the meeting itself is a waste of time. This does not apply to planned one to ones where the manager or leader needs to be prepared.

#7 Use "and" instead of "but"

"I like the design overall, but maybe I'd put the search box somewhere else, it looks out of place now." 

"You did a good job, but you made a few spelling mistakes in the LinkedIn post, but overall you can see a shift, so great job for me!"

Do you feel that these feedbacks contradict each other? Someone praises you and then brushes it off with the word "but". You don't see the praise anymore because the word "but" negates the whole thing. That's why we recommend using the conjunction "and" so that your FB flows nicely and nothing goes to waste.

Summing up

Give feedback and be radically open. You'll improve your communication, get rid of unnecessary guesswork, and help your colleagues advance their skills. Get your FB on, use the radical openness scheme, because giving the right FB doesn't happen overnight.

Think about these 7 tips:

  1. Use the sandwich method
  2. Be specific
  3. Be humble
  4. Don't be personal
  5. Suggest solutions
  6. Don't put it off
  7. Use "and" instead of "but"

You may think that being able to receive FB is also important, but difficult for some. You are right, and that's why we are preparing the second part of this article explaining how to be able to accept FB.

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Helča wrote this article for you – Product designer.