Management November 8, 2019 Last updated November 7th, 2019 1,819 Reads share

Giving Feedback The Right Way

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The main reason tech startups fail is building something no one wants. Validation is the practice of ensuring that there’s actually a market need for what you’re doing, but the validation doesn’t describe how the offering will be improved. Feedback is therefore essential to iterating upon your product.
We often hear about user feedback and customer feedback, but internal feedback is perhaps even more important. After all, the people in your company probably care more about the product than anyone else in the world. The way in which internal feedback is phrased can make a huge difference.
You’ve probably said something like this: “The ___ feature doesn’t work when a user does X. Fix it.” A better way to phrase this would be: “It would be great if users can ___ while doing X because they’ll better be able to ___, which ultimately creates a better user experience and user loyalty for our business.” The former creates a task for someone to edit code. The latter creates shared responsibility and explains the why behind the request so that in the future the coder will better know what to do.

So here are 5 easy ways to improve your feedback

1. Precision

The more detail you can give in your feedback, the less back-and-forth there will be, speeding up the actual iteration.
Instead of: “The font towards the bottom doesn’t match the design.”
Try: “It looks like you’re using a different font in section X than the Lato font that’s in the design file (LINK).”
If you were to go with the first example, you’d probably get a reply asking where the design file is, what the desired font is, what’s wrong with the current font, or something along those lines. This kind of back-and-forth just isn’t necessary and doesn’t add value to either person in the conversation, so removing it will help streamline communication, thus streamlining projects and improving efficiency across the board.

2. Brevity

A short, concise message offers a lot less stress, and a lot more clarity than a long one. Use bullet points, keep it under a few sentences, and use bold words and italics when called for.
Instead of: “The marketing department had a meeting about the latest design, and we had some pointers that we think could really make an improvement. Do you have time to discuss this?”
Try: “Jordan and I have some feedback on the design: 1, 2, and 3.”
The former is very wordy and dense and spends a lot of time before going into the actual point of the message: The request for updates. When you’re assigning a task or sharing knowledge about something, like requests made in a meeting, you want that message to be the bedrock of your conversation – so have it front and center.

3. Conclusion

Feedback does not always require an immediate response, it may just be an “FYI” about how a certain user engaged with the product.
Instead of: “A color-blind user couldn’t properly use the Proof of Concept. Let’s set up a call to talk about this.”
Try: “A color-blind user couldn’t use the POC. For your information, only. No action necessary.”
If immediate action isn’t needed, say so. Meetings should only be held if absolutely necessary, and if they somehow add value, whether that’s by streamlining communication, making major announcements that can’t be made over text, or some other (likely infrequent) cause. Frequent meetings are often a sign of unnecessary bureaucracy, which drags down organizations and has negative consequences on the bottom-line (not to mention the hit to company culture – no one likes meetings). 

4. Deadlines

As you know, the more precise your feedback, the better. This includes dates and times. If you’re requesting a new feature as part of feedback, make sure to attach timelines, so it can properly be placed on the road-map.
Instead of: “A user asked why they’re not able to do X. Can we build that into the product?”
Try: “We got user requests for feature X, which would really help improve the product to bring more value. Let’s assign this to Bonnie and Clyde to be due by the end of the sprint.”
If you leave a request open-ended, then you can’t expect the task to be done by any specific date. Your employees are people, just like you, and they can’t read your mind. Therefore, you have to spell out what’s on your mind, and make deadlines abundantly clear, whether it’s for a quick-and-easy task or a long and tough project. Besides, the person you’re assigning the task to may not even be on the same page as to whether it’s a “quick and easy” task or a “long and tough” project, so if you give a deadline that seems too tight, or even too drawn-out, then you can have the conversation about how you see the task and give a justification as to your envisioned timeline.

5. Empathy

Nowadays, employees are choosing workplaces based on things like cultural fit and how they feel in that workplace. If the feedback that’s given comes across as too harsh or direct, then company culture will take a hit, and employees won’t feel like they’re respected and should stay in the organization. To take an extreme example, think of a boss who yells at their employees, versus one that has a casual conversation with them over drinks.
Empathy is a powerful way to lead, regardless of if we’re talking about employee feedback or social entrepreneurship.
Instead of: “Do this task.”
Try: “I’m working on this, can you help?”
This is what makes the difference between a boss and a leader. The former allocates tasks and gives orders, not inspiring loyalty or a desire to cooperate, but rather operating from a place of inspiring the fear that someone might be punished for not doing their job. On the other hand, a leader inspires loyalty and commitment by leading the way, working hands-on on tasks, and asking employees for help, rather than commanding from a position of authority.
Frederik Bussler

Frederik Bussler

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