Ah feedback. You sound like such an innocent wee thing. Yet, you can create so much confusion and misery when delivered. The art of feedback is just that – an art. And like any art, you can make something great or make a meal out of it.
Don’t get me wrong, feedback is great in certain contexts. As I’ve explained previously, it’s also distinct from criticism and that mistaken identity often leads to more issues than there should be.
However, feedback can be problematic too. Especially when it’s unsolicited. Part of caring for your fellow freelancer is keeping this in mind when you see what others are doing.
Here are some of the points to consider when you’re tempted to give someone else feedback – and get better at the art of giving feedback
Is it too soon?
Someone has poured their blood, sweat and tears into something. They’ve released it. They are happy with the product. Others are too. You’re not.
Should you give the feedback? I’m not entirely convinced you should. Especially if it isn’t requested.
Part of the art of feedback is knowing when to indulge and when not to.
You see, when someone releases something, they’ve usually been working their butt off in the background trying to get everything right. Pushing through the last moment jitters, they’ve prevailed. They’ve had to overcome all manner of issue to get where they are. They finally feel free enough to enjoy it.
You come along with a big bucket of “you should have done it this way” and all that does is deflate that excitement.
Here’s the thing- they’ve risked their time, worked for hours, made sacrifices, choices about quality, come through self-doubt and done the best they can. You…well, you have sat on the couch, seen what they’ve done and decided you can help. After the help is no longer required no less.
This is why product managers and developers often have beta testers. You can give to someone to work out the kinks as part of the process. Once you’ve launched, shaking the feedback can in front of someone can be demoralising.
Give people space to enjoy the moment before pouring the cold water. Especially if the advice isn’t critical to the mission.
Has it been asked for?
Being asked for feedback is part of a permission process. If you are giving the feedback without the permission to do so, you better make sure you tread lightly.
That’s not to say that you should always wait for permission. But it certainly means you shouldn’t treat it like an opportunity to give a litany of complaints.
How fatigued is the recipient?
Take it from someone who has had all manner of feedback about her disabilities over the years, there’s a limit to the amount of times I can listen to the same helpful advice. Especially from someone who has no idea what my situation is like.
It’s common for people with disabilities, mental health issues, women with kids, women in business, schoolteachers and a bunch of other people in our community to receive regular unsolicited feedback.
What you say to that person about the latest and greatest fix on offer is dis-empowering. It assumes that person hasn’t investigated all the options available and made intelligent decisions about their health, welfare and life.
Thinking of these sorts of situations helps you tap into the art of feedback. People are often tired, nervous, overworked, sensitive and creatively drained after a launch. It’s a process of laying bare and working hard to get something over the line, after all.
You and your helpful feedback may not be what the person needs after they’ve just given birth to their project. They may be well aware things need fixing.
Pick and choose your moments. Mind your delivery. And take the temperature on someone and their stress levels before you add more.
What are your intentions?
The nature of feedback is that is influenced by person delivering the feedback, context, intent, audience and delivery system. This is communication 101.
Not all intentions are on the level. You might accidentally be utilising someone else’s situation to make yourself feel good.
Feedback can come as a result of wanting to start a conversation. It might occur because you have strong opinions about a particular topic. If you’ve ever had a political conversation with someone, you’ll know passion can override other considerations. You may also want to feel accepted.
Oh, and humans have agendas on occasion.
We occasionally give feedback because we want to steer conversations to places where we feel more comfortable or benefit from.
There are times when we want to prop up our own egos, feel in control and influence others. Or even feel superior to another person. Check to make sure it’s coming from a genuine place of care as opposed to a desire to feel smug and satisfied.
We may want to sell someone. Or prove a point based on a previous misdeed. We may not like someone and want to “put them in their place” through feedback.
Regardless, you may actively seek the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge not realising you are dis-empowering others.
Always check and re-check your intentions. The burning desire to give feedback doesn’t always come from a positive place. Don’t attempt to guide others as a way of avoiding your own baggage.
Are your experiences comparable?
Brene Brown has a great quote in her book, Daring Greatly.
“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Never forget that the expertise and decision-making processes of another person are influenced by their experience. What they do with their business or life doesn’t have to make sense to you. Their reality is their own.
Lifeline has a great phrase – “you are the expert in your life.”
No one knows your life, what’s lead to your choices, what you have considered and adopted versus what you have rejected better than you.
You may not understand why someone chooses a route you wouldn’t. But that’s OK. They don’t have to justify that to you. Nor do they have to labour under your assumptions as to why they chose one option over another.
Is it useful advice or feedback?
This sounds like a given, but it’s not really. As my old boss said to me “everyone can tell me what the problems are. I want the person with the solution.”
There’s a product manager ideal about meetings that suits feedback situations. For meetings, you should leave with double to treble the amount of the time spent in the meeting. Productive, actionable, block free work, too.
If you’re giving me feedback, you should be thinking about how actionable it would be.
For example, if you are experimenting with an idea, you may want to do the lo-fi version until you test the market enough to warrant investment of more time, money and resources. A lot of new ideas begin as quite scrappy ideas and then mature once they grow.
It’s called having a ‘minimum viable product’.
In a freelancer context, you might find it’s easier to test out how you and freelance gel by choosing a low-tech website that you build yourself when you start out. Once things become more solid, you might opt to have a web designer build you a new one.
What you want out of feedback is a low barrier way to improve. If that’s not evident within the feedback, it’s unlikely to help.
Why? Because all feedback is useless if it cannot be applied to the situation at hand. All you achieve when telling someone they aren’t doing well enough with no roadmap to improvement is creating stress and doubt in the very person you are attempting to help.
Are you in the right head space to be giving feedback?
The art of feedback doesn’t depend on what you say alone. It also depends on the subtext and messages underpinning it. We may not think it, but we send unseen messages all the time. And no, I don’t mean the special sarcastic phrases people use or the eye-rolls designed to warp meaning.
Your attitude when delivering feedback comes through loud and clear. If you are tired, stressed or feeling otherwise down, giving out feedback should be avoided.
Whether you think it’s happening or not, your emotions and fractiousness leak through.
No one is going to take your feedback seriously if it’s delivered in the arse end of the evening, especially if it’s interrupting their personal life. If consists of already making up your mind about what the other person has done wrong, that assumption will lead you directly to troubled waters.
In short, if you are not in a decent enough mood to investigate a situation rather than dictate, keep it to yourself. It will backfire.
Are you prepared for push-back?
“I was only trying to help”- fantastic.
That also means you can drop the desire to make this a one-way conversation and listen to the feedback from the other person as to why your feedback may be under nourished, under researched, inappropriate, ill-conceived or poorly timed.
If you cannot cope with the idea of someone responding to the feedback you are about to deliver, rethink your position. Good feedback is a two-way street. Delivering it is not enough. You have to be there for the consequences of that delivery as well.
The art of feedback begins with generosity
Generosity doesn’t have anything to do with volume and everything to do with thinking of the other person. If you aren’t considering all the variables of a person’s situation, it limits your capacity for empathy. Empathy is where truly helpful feedback resides.
Feedback is about connecting, acknowledging impediments to success and enabling a person to make a forward leap. It’s about inspiring them and gifting courage.
None of that comes from lobbing in, throwing down what you know and exiting stage left.