Category: Feedback

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I’ve been terribly busy the last couple of months and it reflects by the lack of any blog posts. So sorry for that. Here’s a short post talking about upcoming speaking engagements.

My first one is for the Collaboration Track at Orevdev in Malmo next week. Titled, “Tightening the Feedback Loop”, I’ll be exploring how interpersonal feedback can be so much more effective. The programme for Oredev looks amazing so I look forward to contributing and participating in the conference.

The second speaking engagement is for the Skills Matter Agile, Lean & Kanban Exchange talking on their “Leadership, Value and Visibility Track”. I’ll be covering, “Making ‘Management’ Work with Agile.

Build the testing pipeline at ACCU 2010

Just a short note that I’ll be running a workshop for attendees of ACCU2010 this Saturday on understanding how to get the balance right for the testing aspect to build pipelines. We’ll explore the tradeoffs and conscious decisions we should be aware of when putting these into our feedback loops.

Slide deck to come, though it’s a classic me-style, participatory workshop (you learn more by doing!) so slides won’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense by themselves.

Giving feedback to defensive people

Update: Posted this so early my brain wasn’t awake and I hadn’t linked to the feedback links as promised. I’ve updated it so that it’s correct now.

A few people have arrived at this blog looking for the terms, “Giving feedback to defensive people.” Before focusing on the fact that the recipient may be “defensive”, I’ll refer to you to several different posts outlining some principles of giving effective feedback. Read them before continuing on.

Firstly, if you’re giving feedback to a person, ensure that you follow the principles of effective feedback.

  1. You intend on strengthening their confidence; or
  2. You’d like to help them improve their effectiveness

Many times I’ve heard several people give feedback and it is not in the spirit of either of these. Often, they give feedback with the intent of improving their own effectiveness, not necessarily the recipient. For a variety of different reasons, it’s easy for me to improve my own effectiveness by asking people what to do – something that is both selfishly easy. It takes more courage and effort, putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes to help them out.

Photo taken from Noii’s Flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

If someone comes across as “defensive”, I’d ask yourself what circumstances they could possibly under that make them so. Perhaps they have other things on their mind, and are preoccupied in a manner that makes it difficult to listen to feedback. The solution? Ask them if now is a good time to give them feedback.

Maybe the recipient associates “feedback” with “criticism” due to others “giving them feedback” ineffectively, fuelling a cycle of defensiveness. The solution? I find it easy to spend a quick minute or two describing the basic principles of feedback, and help them understand you are here wtih the true intent of either strengthening their confidence or improving their effectiveness. I like to emphasis it should be a conversation and that I will try to be a specific as possible, but encourage questioning if the recipient needs clarity.

Another reason the recipient may be defensive is for fear of being judged as a person. The solution? Focus on behaviours and impact, rather than attempting to describe what you think their motives are. This doesn’t mean you cannot have an opinion, however it should be clearly stated about how you interpret the impact, not on how you interpret them as a person.

They may truly believe that whatever situation you describe, they disagree with. The solution? Start with the model I describe here, seeking agreement for observations, then impact, before thinking about recommendations. Any disagreement on the early stages will inevitably lead to disagreements on future stages.

Finally, as a person giving feedback, you need to accept the recipient may choose to acknowledge, disagree with or do nothing with the feedback you gift to them. I remember one incident, quite recently, where a colleague gave me feedback with recommendations. We talked about it, both understanding the variety of forces unbeknownst to each other. At the end of the conversation, I concluded I would have repeated the same behaviour in the same circumstances, however that’s when the feedback donor got frustrated. My lesson, if you’re giving feedback to someone, be prepared to say, “I respect that we disagree on something, and thank you for being prepared to listen.”

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part VI: It’s Okay To Disagree

DisagreeingAs a person receiving feedback, you may find you can’t understand what the other person is trying to tell you. You’ve already put significant effort shaping effective feedback out of whatever it is the donor gives you. First you focused on fact finding, uncovering your specific behaviours. You then asked some questions identifying how the donor interpreted the impact.

Remembering that effective feedback is aimed at helping you, the recipient, Strengthen Confidence or Improve Effectiveness, you may find, at some point, the donor’s feedback isn’t doing either. Perhaps you don’t remember your own behaviours, or you see the impact being different. It’s your responsiblitiy as a recipient to seek actions that help you Strengthen Confidence or Improve Effectiveness and if you cannot find out how changing your behaviour will help you do either, then it’s okay to disagree.

Make sure you thank the donor for their feedback, helping them understand how and why you the feedback doesn’t Strengthen Your Confidence or Improve Your Effectiveness. Only when you’ve done everything you possibly could to uncover effective feedback, then is it okay to disagree with the feedback.

Don’t feel like you have to respond and agree with every part of feedback. At some point, interpretation of impact requires a matter of perception, and people often remember facts quite differently from what actually happenned.

The image above is taken from Twilsoncom’s flickr stream under the creative commons licence

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part V: Thank Them For Their Feedback

Give ThanksWhen someone gives you feedback (even if it’s not wrapped completely effectively), it’s important to thank them for taking the time to do so. As long as you uncover the important elements of effective feedback together, and agree on actions helping you Strengthen Confidence and Improve Effectiveness, then you personally benefited from the situation.

Avoid the need to justify every single part of the feedback and start with a “Thanks!” Acknowledging the person trying to help you goes a long way. Affirming the value of each piece of feedback helps the donor feel at ease. It assures them you are listening and aren’t reacting badly to their feedback. Creating this safe environment for the donor lets them focus on giving effective feedback, boosting their confidence as they continue with the rest of the feedback.

There’s no need to go all gushy and shower them with gratitudes. Start simple, using short positive affirmations, indicating to the donor you are listening to their feedback focusing on what it is they are trying to tell you.

Effective feedback takes time to give, and as a recipient you should thank the donor for taking their time to help you strengthen your confidence or improve your effectiveness.

Picture above comes from Fave’s Flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part IV: Apply It Immediately

A key principle to keep in mind when giving effective feedback is to do so in a timely manner. Feedback only helps the recipient if they have an opportunity to do something about it. It’s difficult to change a specific behaviour if a project’s finished or the feedback comes a year later.

If someone gives you the gift of feedback and you agree upon actions, seek the nearest opportunity to apply it. Applying the actions immediately reinforces the value of feedback. When the feedback donor sees a change in behaviour, they see that it helped the recipient become more effective. Applying it sooner than later creates opportunities for the donor to give new feedback, focused on strengthening confidence and encouraging more of the desired behaviours. More than helping the donor realise the value in their feedback, the agreed upon actions should help improve or continue the recipients’ effectiveness in what context they are working in.

Skiier Fallen OverAs an example, when you’re out skiing, applying actions from feedback will improve your effectiveness the most by applying it immediately. It may take some time to master it, to change conscious behaviour but it’s only useful if you do it while you’re on the slopes, not when you’re back from your skiing holiday.

Remember that not executing on actions immediately has other negative effects. Not doing anything about agreed upon actions sends a message that you don’t value the feedback, decreasing the likelihood the donor will give any feedback in the future (whether or not its focused on Strengthening Confidence or Improving Effectiveness). Not applying the actions immediately also makes it easier to forget what behaviour needs to change and it will be harder to get affirmation about if your effectiveness has improved.

Photo taken from Sunflower Dave’s Flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part III: Agree on Action

HandshakeThe biggest mistake when giving feedback is telling someone what to do (or what not to do). Ever been on the receiving end of feedback like that? Do you immediately recoil and feel yourself saying no? It’s natural because you don’t know how following their recommendation makes you more effective. When someone recommends a specific action, unwind the (ineffective) feedback to see how they ended at their recommendation. Find out what key behaviour triggered they observed and what impact it had. Here’s how you might do it:

Follow these steps:

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Establish what you’re about to do
  3. Ask for specific behaviour
  4. Ask for observed impact
  5. Generate alternative actions
  6. Agree on an action

Only after you both share the same context and background do you then want to move onto Agreeing on the Action. Asking someone to change their behaviour assumes it will fix the problem. Many times people suggest one thing not having the full context and actually, a better solution is something completely different.

Ensure that you both agree on the action because it will make the person receiving the feedback more effective, not because someone told them to.

Picture of handshake comes from Oooh.oooh’s flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part II: Observe First, Judge Later

SilentLet’s be honest. People aren’t used to hearing feedback, let alone listening out for characteristics of effective feedback. It’s easy to jump to feeling defensive and trying to justify everything and look for reasons why you behaved as you did. People with backgrounds in programming are also often quick to apply the labels: “Good” and “Bad”.

When receiving feedback, consciously slow down your reactions. Focus on understanding the situation, the facts. Then assess the impact. Avoid the temptation label the feedback as positive or negative, good or bad. Placing a value judgement immediately leads you to agreeing or disagreeing with it. Really listen to the feedback and confirm what you heard, first asking for the specific behaviour, followed by understanding how they perceive the impact.

Here’s an example:

Donor: “Last week I noticed you turning up for stand up three of out five days. I’m concerned because I think it indicates to other team members that their time is not valuable to them.”
Recipient: “You’re saying that I turned up late three out of five days?”
Donor: “Yes”
Recipient: “I only thought I was late for just one day. You’re also saying that my team mates are being affected by this? How are they expressing that their time is not valuable?”
Donor: “I’ve heard a few of them talk about if you’re not turning up on time, why should they?”
Recipient: “I had no idea about this”

The person giving the feedback will often give feedback that is ineffective, therefore as the recipient you may need to ask them questions to get back to the original observations. Focus on facts. Then focus on interpretative. Leave the action until last.

Donor: “You need to turn up on time for stand ups.”
Recipient: “It’s helpful for me to understand some specific examples. Have I not been turning up for stand ups on time?”
Donor: “No. You arrived late last week.”
Recipient: “I only thought I was late for just one day. Was I late more than that last week?”
Donor: “Yes. I thought you arrived late during stand up at least three times last week. It’s so annoying.”
Recipient: “I’m sorry to hear that you see it as annoying. It’d be helpful for me to understand why you see that as annoying.”
Donor: “It’s annoying because other team members have been complaining about if you’re not turning up, why should they.”
Recipient: “Ahh. So you’re saying that because I’m turned up late three times last week, then everyone else feels like they shouldn’t have to either.”
Donor: “Exactly.”

Whether or not a donor is giving you effective or ineffective feedback, they are trying to tell you something. Use the opportunity to listen to what they are trying to tell you, even if it is masked by emotion and suggested actions. Use the opportunity to uncover the elements of effective feedback. Avoid agreeing or disagreeing with a person immediately. Confirm what you are hearing. Uncover the facts and understand how they perceive the impact and both of you will understand what actions need to be taken and more importantly why.

Photo above taken from Borghetti’s flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part I: Ask for It

Asking For FeedbackI’m writing this guide to answer a question a trusted colleague asked me the other day. I think there are plenty of resources for how to give effective feedback (I’ve written a few myself) yet I can’t find as many about the other end, or how to go about receiving feedback. I’m planning on writing a series of these posts, so my first tip in this series is: Ask For Feedback.

I’m amazed at how many people go through life without asking for feedback. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t do so. Perhaps it’s because people are ineffective at giving feedback, perhaps people are fearful of the consequences it may have on their status, on their career, or their current position. Many organisations, teams and processes don’t really create a safe environment for people to receive effective feedback, only serving to fuel the cycle of not wanting to provide effective feedback. Poor HR processes tie performance evaluations to annual reviews that only occur once a year, adding to the vicious cycle of providing poor quality feedback.

Remember that effective feedback should be about Strengthening Confidence and Improving Effectiveness for the person receiving it. Anything else is ineffective.

The first step that you, as the person benefiting from the feedback, should do to break the cycle is simple; ask for it. Asking for feedback (particularly detached from performance evaluation cycles) starts to create a safe environment for the person giving feedback. It gives the donor permission to help you understand what things to continue doing (or do more of) and places where you might improve. You could start the conversation off like this:

“I value your opinions and I’d be interested in getting your feedback about how you think things are going. It would be helpful for me to understand specific examples focusing on behaviour where you can help me strengthen my confidence and improve my effectiveness.”

Make sure you give the person the opportunity to think about it:

“I’d like to get that feedback soon and would like to give you some time to think about it. Can we organise a time later in the week to cover this?”

Establish a time that works for the both of you – enough to let the donor collect their thoughts balanced against enough time for it to be relevant for the recipient. More importantly, ask for feedback frequently. Don’t wait until the end of a team, the end of a project or a whole year. You want feedback to be relevant and specific because relating feedback to recent events gives you the opportunity to apply it.

Photo above taken from GreyBlueSkies flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence