The importance of feedback

Human beings are social by nature. Our inclination to change our behavior in reliance upon feedback from our fellows is a primary evolutionary adaptation mechanism. Feedback is our relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with us, it’s how we make an impact on other people. Working in co-located environments, we are accustomed to making evaluations based on verbal and non-verbal signals: body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and many more. We’re great at picking up on various signals from others. When working remotely, people are isolated from these clues.

Feedback is key to successful day-to-day interactions, as it helps us see our inevitable blind spots and grow:

  • Keeps everyone on track
  • Helps avoid major mistakes
  • Forms better relationships
  • Motivates people
  • Promotes personal & professional growth
  • Enables a friendly work environment
  • Instills trust among the team

Feedback can come in the form of “praise” for things team members do well, and in the form of “tips” pertaining to areas for improvement. We encourage both types on a regular basis. To foster a feedback culture, Hygge Companies establish dedicated time for peer coaching every three months. Outside this formal schedule, the expectation is that we’ll just pull feedback from those around us whenever we need to.

Embracing feedback

This might be counterintuitive, but the receiver is in charge of feedback. They’re the one who decides what to listen to and how to make sense of it. That is why it is important for everyone to learn how to react to feedback. When you’re receiving praise, that’s usually easy; however, it might be hard to hold on your knee-jerk reaction and reject criticism. Try to do the following:

  1. Assume positive intent. It might be hard for your coach to choose the right words to describe behaviors, feelings or thoughts, but feedback is an extra-effort aimed at helping you improve your work or your professional relationships. If you do have to explain yourself, try to remain empathetic. Remember that it is not you in the focus, but your work. Feedback is not an assessment of you as a person, but of your behavior and specific tasks.
  2. Be open and non-defensive. Each time you listen to someone sharing their thoughts, imagine they are right. Try to be impartial and try to understand the opinion of the person you are talking to. To make sure you understand them correctly, try active listening and ask for details. To master active listening skills, try these guidelines.
  3. Reflect, accept or discard. Take time to consider what you’ve heard and think of an action. Feedback is often subjective, and you are not required to follow it. Say “thank you” with sincerity and, if you are in doubt about further action, elicit feedback on the matter from other people.

If you master the art of receiving feedback, you can accelerate your own development. Find more tips in this article.

Couldn’t help being defensive?

Events are neither negative nor positive. Your belief about how the event affects you is what matters. When you view a situation as an attack, you will become defensive, which may cause negative consequences.

ABC model

When someone states something that causes you to arch your back and want to become defensive, take a moment to work through the ABC model. Answer the following questions to challenge your negative thoughts and create new behaviors.

A - Activating event: What is the situation?

B - Beliefs: How does your mind respond to the situation? What are some constructive beliefs/thoughts to have about the situation?

C - Consequences: These include your feelings and behaviors. How can you use your current constructive thoughts to create positive feelings/behaviors?

If you have questions about the ABC model, take a look at this example.

Circle of control

Another way to deal with such situations is to focus on aspects that you can control.

Aspects that are in your controlAspects that are not in your control
Your wordsWhat other people state
Your actionsWhat other people do
The way you handle your feelings; how you take care of yourselfOther people’s feelings
Your decisions; whether you follow the rulesOther people’s choices
The amount of effort you investPast events
How you treat othersWeather

Suggesting feedback

Anybody can master the art of providing feedback. Praising usually goes easy, but one can feel insecure sharing corrective feedback. This is because people are scared of damaging the relationship, being wrong, losing face or hurting concerned individual. Studies prove that corrective feedback is easier to embrace if you are in a good self-regulatory state and not tired or upset. Candidness is a crucial part of building trust. If you are able to notice something valuable that a person could improve on, it means you care.

Below are some tips to make a feedback flow:

  1. Evaluate the work and not the person. Do not use absolutes like: “You were wrong”, " You always…", “You have a problem here”. Instead, provide an example such as: “This task was not completed within the agreed upon time and therefore we failed to provide the report on time”. Use the Situation-Behavior-Impact (S-B-I) model:
  • Situation: Define the when and where by attaching in time and place.
  • Behavior: Describe the observable behavior and how it was applied.
  • Impact: Describe how the concerned individual’s action affected you or others experiences and thinking.
  1. Use I-messages. An I-message states the behavior and describes the speaker’s feelings or beliefs rather than focusing on the person spoken to. They are usually assertions made in a subdued manner. Contrarily, making statements such as “You did it all wrong again” will urge your listener to defend. You may use phrases “I feel …”, “I would like …”, etc. For instance, “I like that all issues are closed on time”. Avoid stating “I feel that you don’t…”, since such statements typically express judgment.

Following are main parts of an “I” Message:

  • How you feel: “I feel, or I think…(state feeling)”
  • What your feeling is about: “When you… (state observation)”
  • Why you feel this way: “Because…(state the requirement)”
  • What you would like to see instead: “I would prefer that…(state preference)”

For instance, “When you are late to our meetings, I feel disrespected/frustrated, since we cannot start our meetings on time. I would prefer that you join meetings during the agreed-upon time.”

  1. Using statements such as “as you might have heard”, “unless you’ve been living in a cage you know”, “as everyone knows”, or “as I’ve already mentioned” causes negative result and might be perceived toxic. The people that aware don’t need it to be said. The people that unaware feel like they’ve missed something and might be anxious to ask about the context.

  2. Remember the goal. When you provide feedback, your task is to help a person in improving his/her work and not to point out mistakes or criticize. This feedback approach will help a person grow and would not demotivate the individual.

Feedback examples

“You always assign random names to the milestones”“I noticed you created two milestones recently (situation) and assigned them very broad and vague names and descriptions (behavior) It is difficult for the team to understand the purpose of these milestones (impact).”
“You’re too quick to make decisions and your code is garbage”“You were very quick to merge the last pull request, but it contained a mistake (situation and behavior) It caused confusion, since now I can’t understand what is the final version of the code (impact) …”

If someone requests feedback from you and it is difficult for you to start, use the following three simple questions to organize your thoughts:

  • What are the things that the concerned person can begin implementing or do more? Some examples are: “I wish that you would start…”, “I think it would be great to…”
  • What do you think that the individual should stop doing? Examples: “I see/feel that (behavior) leads to (negative outcomes)
  • What do you think this person should keep doing? Examples: “I like the way…”, “I appreciate…”

Start-Stop-Continue approach will help you concentrate on behaviors and make the feedback more useful and practical. These categories are not mandatory and if you cannot find something that the person should stop doing, then drop it. The important thing is to avoid evaluating personality as it is not a subject for improvement.

Additional Resources