I recently participated in a coaching session hosted by the Stripe Education team on how to deliver and receive feedback. In most workplace settings, the word “feedback” has not only a negative connotation, but it also triggers a fight-or-flight response. For many people, hearing the word “feedback” makes them feel similarly to hearing footsteps approaching from behind in a dark alley. They feel like they’re about to be attacked and they become defensive.
Great and actionable feedback can be broken down into a few key components:
Facts: state the facts that make your case. “I noticed that in the past month you’ve arrived late to 4 out of 5 team meetings, 3 of which you were more than 20 minutes late.”
How you feel: talk about how the facts make you feel. “This makes me feel like that my time and the team’s time are not valued and prioritized.”
Why it’s important: why should they care? “Everyone on the team really values your presence in meetings and wants your input.”
Request: ask for change. “I request that you leave buffer time in your commute so that even if the train is delayed or there’s more traffic than normal, you still arrive to team meetings on time.”
Most people screw up at the start. Instead of stating facts, they tend to present their opinion as The Truth™: “You’re always late!”, “Your code is sloppy!” Subjective statements weaken your case and make the recipient feel attacked. Don’t do that. Instead, try to parse your gut reaction and separate the facts that no one can debate from the raw emotions that you feel. Your emotions are still valid, but recognize the difference between things that actually happened versus your perception of what happened and its effects on your emotions.
It’s also important to pause and let them speak along the way: “What do you think?”, “Is there something I’m not aware of?”, “Help me understand what’s happening.” Maybe something is going on in their personal life. Help them be more comfortable by showing that you care about their well-being and want to help them through the situation.
At the end, it might be useful to have a meta discussion: “I know feedback discussions can be awkward, but I really feel like having them the right way can improve our relationship. Do you feel like this was a productive conversation? Are there things that could be improved?”