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Behaviour and protocol

Feedback

This document tries to describe what feedback is, how to give it, and when to give it - all in an Abtion context.

Megaphone

Types of feedback

Feedback is often divided into three categories:

  • Appreciation: Positive feedback recognizing a person’s effort or achievement.
  • Coaching: Constructive feedback that helps a person improve.
  • Evaluation: Constructive feedback that is held up against a set of guidelines or a goal. E.g., for a performance review.

Pointers on maintaining a healthy feedback culture

Ideas

Before giving feedback

  1. Announce that you want to give feedback.
    • Prepare the receiver by getting a “micro-yes” from them. E.g., by asking “Can I give you some feedback?”
    • It can be helpful for the receiver to know the context of your feedback. For instance, you could say, “I want to give you some feedback on our recent meeting.”
    • Think about using another word than feedback. Words like “input”, “advice”, “tip”, “trick”, or “suggestion” can be less loaded.
  2. Give feedback for them, not for you.
    • Make sure that the feedback is actionable for the receiver. If it’s not actionable, it’s not feedback.
    • If you’re giving feedback to someone, make sure that it’s for their benefit, not yours.
    • Check out the matrix from Radical Candor for more on this.
  3. Think about the power dynamics between you and the receiver.
    • If you’re the senior in a scenario, it is especially important to think about how to word the feedback. What was intended to be constructive, can easily sound like an attack.
  4. Schedule feedback sessions.
    • If you have a hard time giving feedback, schedule feedback sessions with your team. This can be a great way to get in the habit of giving feedback.
  5. Give it timely.
    • Feedback is best given as soon as possible after the event or situation.
    • A rule of thumb is to give feedback within 24 hours of the event or situation, and at least within a week.

When giving feedback

  1. Follow the FACTS model.
  2. Remember to give positive feedback as well.
    • Feedback does not always have to be negative. Positive feedback is also important.
    • Giving positive feedback can be a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships.
  3. Avoid over-praising.
    • Over-praising can be just as bad as not giving any feedback at all. It can make the receiver feel like you’re not being genuine.
  4. Avoid aggressive language.
    • Avoid using absolute words like “always” and “never”. There is usually a more descriptive word.
    • Curse words makes your constructive feedback sound more aggressive and can make your positive feedback sound less genuine.
  5. Praise publicly, criticize confidentially.
    • When giving positive feedback, it can be a good idea to do it in public. This can help build trust and strengthen relationships.
    • Avoid criticizing someone in public. When criticizing someone or something, do it with as few people as possible as to not throw someone under the bus.
    • Ideally, we will reach a point where we can give both positive and constructive feedback in public. But while practicing feedback, this can be a good rule of thumb.
  6. Ask for feedback.
    • Feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street. Ask for feedback on your work and your feedback.
    • If you receive feedback that you don’t find actionable, ask the person giving the feedback to make it actionable. E.g., by following the SBI model.

FACTS model

Ideal constructive feedback follows the FACTS model. It:

Focuses on specifics

Set the scene on when and where the situation took place. Eg. “At the meeting this Wednesday when you hosted standup”

Addresses observable actions

Explain what happened. For example, “You didn’t ask everyone what they were doing”.

Communicates clearly and constructively

Make sure to word it clearly and with encouragement

Ties into the impact

Explain what impact the situation had, eg. “Made me worry that we didn’t get all the relevant information.”

Suggests alternatives or solutions

Ask them to come up with solutions. If they can’t, give them alternatives

Feedback methods

SBI model

The SBI model is a method for giving constructive feedback. It stands for Situation, Behavior, and Impact.

When to use

When you want to give feedback after an event or situation. Don’t wait too long. Feedback is best given as soon as possible after the event or situation. A rule of thumb is to give feedback within 24 hours of the event or situation, and at least within a week.

How to use

  1. Describe the situation (S).
    • Set the scene on when and where the situation took place. E.g., “At the meeting this Wednesday when you hosted standup”.
  2. Describe the behavior (B).
    • Explain what happened. E.g., “You didn’t ask everyone what they did”.
  3. Describe the impact (I).
    • Explain what impact the situation had. E.g., “Made me worry that we didn’t get all the relevant information.”

In some cases it can make sense to exclude the Impact or switch it out with an Improvement instead. Say:

  • (S:) This morning,
  • (B:) you were 15 minutes late for our pomodoro.

As lateness is usually recognized as problematic behaviour, it shouldn’t be necessary to describe the impact.

If you want to help the receiver, you can follow up with a suggested improvement:

  • (Improvement:) Could you send me a message next time you’re delayed?

Pros

  • Ensures concrete actionable feedback.
  • Allows to prepare feedback.
  • Can be used for both positive and constructive feedback.

Cons

  • If the feedback isn’t given timely, the receiver might not remember the situation or they might not understand the urgency.

Instant gratification

When to use

How to use

  • For simple gratification, just say “Thank you”, “Great thinking”, or simply “Nice”.
  • It’s usually better with at bit more context. E.g., “Thank you for taking the time to help me with this.”, “Great thinking on how to solve this problem.”, or “Nice work on the design.”
  • Only give gratification when it’s genuine and that it’s for the benefit of the receiver.

Pros

  • It’s quick and easy.
  • It’s a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships.
  • Feedback as soon as possible after the event or situation.

Cons

  • Does not give much nuance.
  • Too much positive feedback can be just as bad as not giving any feedback at all. It can make the receiver feel like you’re not being genuine.

Instant observation

When to use

How to use

  • Say what you observe. E.g., “It seems like you’re writing while I’m talking to you”, “You’re looking away”, or “You’re not taking notes”.
  • Avoid interpreting the situation or making assumptions about the individual’s state. For example, instead of saying “You’re not paying attention”, “You’re not interested”, or “You’re not listening”, simply state your observations.

Pros

  • It’s quick and easy.
  • Feedback as soon as possible after the event or situation.
  • You allow the receiver to interpret the situation themselves.
  • You avoid reading their intentions the wrong way.
  • It’s a way to defuse a potential conflict.

Cons

  • It can sound like you’re accusing the receiver if you don’t think about your tone of voice.
  • It can be hard to give instant observation if you’re not used to it.

Cycle back

When to use

How to use

  • Say “I have some feedback for you, but I don’t want to interrupt you. Can we discuss it later?”
  • Say “I would have done this differently. It’s fine for now. Let’s cycle back to it later.”
  • Note down the issue and return to it when you have time. E.g., by adding a TODO: comment in the code, add it as a chore, or put it in the calendar.

Pros

  • It allows you to give feedback without interrupting the flow.
  • It allows you to give feedback when you have time to think about it.
  • You don’t have to spend time every time you see an improvement area.

Cons

  • You have to remember to cycle back to it.
  • The receiver might spend time overthinking what the feedback is about.
  • It can be hard to remember what the feedback was about if you don’t write it down.

Yes-and (AKA “Avoid being Kanye”)

The title of this method is inspired by Kanye West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. It’s also known as “Yes-and”.

When to use

  • When a meeting participant is saying something that is not correct and you want to correct them.
  • E.g., when they say “The budget is 100.000 DKK”, but you know that it’s 200.000 DKK.
  • Not for insignificant things like when they mispronounce a word or say something that you don’t agree with, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Feedback in meetings

How to use

  • Say “I want to add that the budget is 200.000 DKK”.
  • Avoid saying “No …”, “Actually …”, or “You’re wrong …”.
  • Use additive language. E.g., “I want to add …”, “I want to mention …”, or “I want to say …”.

Pros

  • Feedback as soon as possible after the event or situation.
  • It allows you to correct someone respectfully.

Cons

  • If not worded correctly, it can sound like you’re accusing the receiver.
  • Make sure that your intention is to help the receiver, not to show off your knowledge.

MoSCoW method

The MoSCoW method is usually a method for prioritizing tasks. It stands for “Must have”, “Should have”, “Could have”, and “Won’t have”.

In the case of feedback it stands for “Must change”, “Should change”, “Could change”, and “Won’t change for now”.

When to use

  • When you see something that you think should be changed. E.g., when you work in the code or for in PR review.
  • Feedback in code reviews

How to use

  • Think about how important it is that the receiver changes the thing you want to give feedback on and base your response on that:
  • Must change: “We need to update this. Let’s find a time to do it.”
  • Should change: “This should probably be updated. Let’s find time for a session”
  • Could change: “I prefer this approach: [EXAMPLE]. This is why: [REASON]”
  • Won’t change now: “There are other ways to do this. Let’s talk about it if we get the time”.

Pros

  • By thinking about the desired outcome, you can save yourself and the receiver time.
  • It can be a great way to start a discussion.

Cons

  • Can come off as patronising if not worded correctly.
  • Avoid language like “This is better” or “That’s not how to do it”.

Feedback in different situations

Doctor

Feedback in meetings

Feedback in code reviews

Feedback in pair programming

Feedback to the client

  • Instant gratification Praise someone in a short and concise way.
  • SBI model Give constructive feedback in a structured manner.
  • When the client asks for something that you don’t think is a good idea, it’s always better to say “I will look into it” and return with an answer later.

Radical Candor

Radical Candor is a framework for giving feedback. It’s based on two axes: Care Personally and Challenge Directly.

Care Personally

The “Care Personally” axis is about how much you care about the person you’re giving feedback to. Both in regards to their well-being and how much you care about their personal and professional development.

Challenge Directly

The “Challenge Directly” axis is about how direct you are when giving feedback. It’s about how willing you are to give feedback that might be hard to hear.

The four quadrants

Here’s the description of three of the four quadrants from Radical Candor:

Ruinous Empathy

Ruinous Empathy is what happens when you want to spare someone’s short-term feelings, so you don’t tell them something they need to know. You Care Personally, but fail to Challenge Directly. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good, or criticism that is sugar-coated and unclear. Or simply silence. Ruinous Empathy may feel nice or safe, but is ultimately unhelpful and even damaging. This is a feedback fail.

Obnoxious Aggression

Obnoxious Aggression, also called brutal honesty or front stabbing, is what happens when you challenge someone directly, but don’t show you care about them personally. It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism and feedback that isn’t delivered kindly.

Manipulative Insincerity

Manipulative Insincerity — backstabbing, political or passive-aggressive behavior — is what happens when you neither Care Personally nor Challenge Directly. It’s praise that is insincere, flattery to a person’s face and harsh criticism behind their back. Often it’s a self-protective reaction to Obnoxious Aggression. This is the worst kind of feedback fail.

Radical Candor

Radical Candor, sometimes known as ‘being respectfully blunt,’ occurs when you Challenge Directly and Care Personally. It’s guidance that is both kind and clear, as well as specific and sincere. Giving honest feedback to peers can be challenging, especially when you care about them. The key is to view it as a means of helping each other improve.

The matrix

Radical Candor Matrix

Resources