loading...
Cover image for A guide to giving & receiving effective feedback

A guide to giving & receiving effective feedback

kelly profile image Kelly Vaughn ・3 min read

Feedback is key to ensuring you're making progress towards a goal. Without it, you're essentially shooting blindly at a target. Maybe you'll get lucky and hit it, but there's a good chance your form could be improved.

It's easy to take the feedback you receive personally – especially negative feedback – but it's important to try to take the feedback you receive as a learning opportunity instead. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill, and with any skill, you need to practice to get better. Below you'll find tips to help deliver feedback in a more effective manner to help prevent a negative reaction, and also some tips for becoming better at receiving feedback.

Providing effective feedback

Ask permission before providing feedback.

A simple "Hey, can I provide some feedback?" can go a long way. Whether you're delivering positive or negative feedback, you set the stage for what's to happen. If someone's already having a bad day, respect their wish to delay the feedback delivery until a later time.

Be timely with your feedback.

Feedback should be delivered within 24-48 hours. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to remember the specific events that occurred, and the more likely the person on the receiving end will also misremember and refute your feedback.

Frame your feedback in a future-forward manner.

We can't change what happened in the past. When you frame feedback towards something that already happened, people are much more likely to get defensive. Here's an example:

"You were late with this deadline. This caused our project to go off track."

vs.

"When you miss a deadline, we aren't able to complete projects on time."

You're still providing the same feedback (don't miss your deadlines), but the framing will change the way the feedback is received.

Drop the feedback sandwich and get right to the point.

The feedback sandwich has been a discussion for ages, following a guide of "positive-negative-positive" feedback. Don't sugar coat your feedback. If you need to provide negative feedback, just do it.

Don't forget to recognize accomplishments.

It's much easier to recognize wrongdoing. You're more likely to have an emotional reaction to a negative event vs. a positive event. Don't forget to recognize the good work delivered by your team as well.

Keep your emotions in check.

It's easy to jump on a negative emotion and immediately provide negative feedback. If you're angry, hold off on delivering feedback until you can discuss the situation in a level-headed manner. No good feedback comes from a moment of anger.

Receiving effective feedback

Be open to receiving feedback.

This is both the most important and most easily forgotten part. Whether you're a junior developer or you're the team lead, you should make yourself open to receiving feedback from those above, below, and at your level. Others will always have a different view of the work you're doing, and there's always going to be room for improvement.

Keep your emotions in check.

Just as it's important on the delivery, your emotions are important on the receiving end as well. Receiving any form of negative feedback is never easy, so it's easy to jump to getting defensive. Take the feedback, think about it, and then reply if you'd like to clear the air.

Understand the message.

Make sure you're fully understanding what is being said to you, especially before you respond. It's completely fine to ask for clarification if something is unclear.

When asking for feedback, be explicit in the type of feedback you want.

Whether you're looking for suggestions on how to clean up your code, how to best convey a message on a website, or just looking for feedback on a very specific section of your app, be as clear as possible in your request. This will lessen the likelihood of somebody commenting on something entirely unrelated. (And if someone ignores your recommendation and comments on something unrelated anyway, don't take it to heart.)


Both giving and receiving feedback effectively takes time and practice. You're not going to get it right on your first go, and that's totally okay. The more you practice, the better you will become.

Posted on by:

kelly profile

Kelly Vaughn

@kelly

Entrepreneur, agency owner, frontend developer

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Although it isn't a hard-and-fast rule, I still find the "feedback sandwich" to be a useful guideline to ensure I'm not being all negative. We tend towards intense criticism of others in this field, so it is wise to be intentional about positivity.

The "sandwich" structure isn't accidental either: starting positive helps us register as benevolent, not a threat, so the negative feedback will actually mean something; ending positive ensures the person doesn't walk away with a reinforced imposter syndrome. It isn't a matter of sugar-coating; it's a highly effective and proven communication tactic. Diving straight into negativity will usually register with the other person as "wa-wah-wah", like the adults in Charlie Brown, not because they're wimpy little cupcakes, but as a fairly common survival tactic. Psychology.

In practice, I aim to start positive, go through all my concerns (not just one), and end positive. That means I'll state at least two good things, which I can find in even the worst code. If I have more good things to say, I'll tuck them in amidst the rest of my feedback.

P.S. In a typical code review, I just go sequentially, and let each comment stand by itself, positive or negative. I just try to find at least two good things.

P.P.S. I didn't "sandwich" my comment, but that wasn't feedback. It's an intellectual conversation. :3

 

The feedback sandwich has its merits if there's been no prior practice towards giving positive feedback.

There's a book I read recently that stated you should let your employees (or direct reports) know you will be implementing a new feedback structure. Then you use this form of feedback (1. Ask, 2. Deliver based on behavior, not the person) in only positive feedback for 8 weeks, and THEN you start mixing in negative feedback. It means you can kindly get right to the point because your team is used to the structure of you giving feedback (whether positive or negative) and you don't have to dance around their feelings.

 

That structure can work as well, as long as positivity remains in the mix.

I think, however, the term "dance around their feelings" shows the wrong attitude. We should always be thinking about how our words and actions are going to affect others. As much as it is popular to justify our own bluntness with "it's reality, suck it up, buttercup," that doesn't actually make it okay to trample over other people in the name of efficiency or objectivity. We can be honest AND compassionate.

Not that I believe you're advocating callousness...but there are many people who would take it as license. The management trends of the last 30 years have it wrong: it does matter how our actions personally affect the "underling".

 

Great post!

We have a feedback rotation at work where every week every member of the team gives feedback to another member, so that everyone gives feedback to every other team member every two months or so.

Sharing this post with my team!

 

Thanks! I love that feedback rotation - such great practice!

 

A simple "Hey, can I provide some feedback?" can go a long way.

This tip is 💯! It's such a little thing but it's so so good!
Great post!

 

Thank you! This quick question really does go a long way, especially when you need to provide negative feedback. It's a sign of respect.

 

I think it's important to mention that people from different cultures give and receive feedback in very different ways. The same piece of feedback can be interpreted as a compliment, critique, or even insult, depending on the receiver's culture and his/her general knowledge of feedback practices. Explaining your way of giving feedback goes a long way, but it's still important to know the differences and try to adjust sometimes. This book was an eye opener for me in the topic of cultural differences: amazon.com/Culture-Map-Breaking-In...

 

One thing we tried in group feedback is one-up, one-down. Going around the table, alternate positive and negative feedback about the workshop etc that just took place. The first few are quite safe, but then the role playing of having to say something negative brings out the real stuff.

 

Great post. Loved it and shared with colleagues as well. Thanks for writing.