Raise your hand if you love giving and getting feedback!
Feedback is one of those words associated with working, jobs, peers, managers, performance reviews, etc. But in reality, feedback exists everywhere in life. We give it to kids when we praise their creative Lego creations. We dole it to friends when we raise one eyebrow at their questionable footwear choices. We get it from the significant other when he says “Hey, can you hang up your towel?” (Technically, it would eventually dry, right? Evaporation laws.)
We’re conditioned from an early age to receive and dish out feedback in equal doses across a wide spectrum, and once our bodies finally grow up and have to get paying jobs to support our Netflix and ice cream self-soothing habits, feedback becomes a more deliberate and weighty thing we must deal with all the time.
Agencies are made up of humans, and whether in a group or one-on-one, there are good ways to give feedback and there are bad ways. Frankly, the bad way is easier because it requires fewer words and less tact. But it’s also less effective and makes people hate you. We want feedback to facilitate better communication, lead to greater ideas and build our team morale. So these are some of the things we are trying to implement in our feedback process.
1. Check yourself before you wreck your feedback
Regardless of the setting, think about why you are giving feedback. Do you need to give it at all? Have you been asked for it? Has the issue already been addressed, or someone else said what you were going to say? Sometimes our feedback response is just a way of making ourselves feel important and staking a claim in a conversation that would’ve been fine without our $.02. Measured participation in creative projects particularly can often be more effective than giving unnecessary feedback and keeping a meeting or discussion on an endless hamster wheel.
Before piping up, approaching someone, drafting that email, think about your own intentions. Are you addressing something that needs your input? If the answer is yes, next check your emotions. Mentally observe your own body language. The more tranquil the delivery of feedback, the more absorption in its recipient. Take the extra time to collect yourself, uncross your arms and unpoutify your mouth. Calm, constructive feedback will go a lot further than reactive, emotional tantrums.
2. This feedback session has expired
If something requires your feedback, be prompt in addressing it. Whether an issue that requires a one-on-one chat or adding to revision ideas on a creative project, it’s important to gauge whether the window for feedback is still open. An ongoing action by staff, peers, or management that requires feedback, should be addressed quickly after an episode occurs. Not days, weeks, months later. Same goes for feedback on creative projects – is your involvement at that stage in the work going to make the project markedly better? If the train is moving in the right direction without the extra input, think about reflecting on #1 again.
3. Specific observations not opinions
In creative work, designers give birth to the things in our world that differentiate us from robots. And like most things that are birthed, the work is personal. We go through many rounds of creative work at our digital agency. Everything gets multiple eyes and is revised continually before it reaches the client. (Yes, the client will have more feedback – another day, another dollar.) It’s important when giving feedback, to state observations related to the work and not the person. “The shape reminds me of the Goodyear Blimp” vs. “You know you’ve made it look like a blimp, right?”
Observational feedback applies to one-on-one input aimed at addressing personal and professional issues too. “This is what I’ve noticed” followed by a calm observation is far more effective than emotional accusations. The goal in any feedback is to make the situation better, solder broken relationship, reduce tension and promote progress. Stating a response neutrally can make all the difference.
4. Make sandwiches
Fact: sandwiches make life better. When applied to feedback properly, they also make critique go down more smoothly. Everyone likes to be praised – especially if he or she has brought forth something for judgement. And criticism is received more graciously when placed between two compliments.
About to to state your thoughts or give a response to someone’s work, or address an uncomfortable situation? Find something you like or appreciate, first. Tell them what it is. Then find something else you like and store it like a squirrel inside your cheek, so you can deliver the good again directly after you’ve shared your negative assessment. Ideally, it will make the person getting the feedback more receptive.
5. Allow response
Feedback should be a two-way street, across the board. In our internal project reviews, the creator of the work introduces and explains his or her creation. Then as feedback is given, the designer, developer, writer, whomever has bravely presented their work, has a chance to address the feedback. For us, suggestions or recommendations given are not held tightly but are opportunities for dialog, engagement and forward momentum.
Regardless of the opportunity – whether in private or in a group – allowing for a response creates a place of openness and gives the recipient an opportunity to explain and often contribute to the development of solutions. Even children appreciate being given a chance to explain why they drew on their little sister with the markers instead of in the 400 coloring books you bought them. Kids are complete creative awesomeness, btw.
Giving feedback is a sensitive thing. The dynamics of a company and its culture heavily influence the feedback loops within the agency. We’ve recognized that nothing runs smoothly all the time, but with the right people making intentional change and putting forth deliberate effort, our individual project teams now foster a civil and safe place for feedback.
There’s always room for improvement and we are open to YOUR feedback – how do you do things? What works? Share your thoughts with or without a feedback sandwich, so we can improve too: firstname.lastname@example.org