How to give valuable Feedback

Published on April 7th, 2017

You can see it every day. Especially in situations where developers talk to each other or tweet something on Twitter. Every day someone gives feedback or criticism to someone else. But how can you give good and valuable feedback?

It is strongly dependent on the subject and the person. A lot of people live by feedback. That can be people like trainers, coaches or speakers of podcasts. All people who interact with other people are dependent on their feedback. Here are my thoughts about it.

Feedback is not always welcome

Here is the thing: Feedback is given, although it is not desired.

Imagine, somebody creates a project or writes code snippets or anything else and posted it to one or several social media platforms. For instance on Twitter. A tiny gist what he did and what he is proud of. Cool! But you know what? I bet the first comments will be those where others describe what they would have done differently and what they would have done better. But that’s not the point. He just wanted to show what he did, but he is not interested in, how others would have done this. If he were interested in, he would have asked about it. But he didn’t.

I know. You might say, that people commenting on this, just mean it well. But think always about it: Is the other person interested in this feedback?

I would suggest that you make a perspective change if you want to give honest and good feedback. Ask some questions yourself. Why do I do this? What is the target? For whom is that? Because only if you know this, I think you have the right to give qualified feedback.

Most people don’t know what feedback is and what it is good for

Next, I would like to talk about how to give feedback. Feedback should always be formulated with help. Feedback is something, that should help others get better. It is meant to help people and not to make them feel bad. It is also nothing to condemn them. But most of us are doing it. Actually, this is the wrong way.

Imagine you have a feedback discussion with your supervisor and he would say something like “I am not satisfied with your work. You did not a good job.” Okay, and… now what? This feedback is pointless. It has two main drawbacks:

  • You’ll lock yourself and go into defense. Of course. You are attacked.
  • Regardless if this is true or not, it will not help you. What should you change? What can you do better in the future?

Here is the deal: Start positive! If you start positively, your conversation partner will do the same. The partner listens and feedback arrives. Feedback should always be formulated with help. In addition, with the information about what you can do better or different. Now you can reflect, ideally agree and do it better in the future. This applies not only to feedback discussions. It applies also to situations at home or on the internet.

The biggest mistake in my opinion

There is a mistake, which is always made again and again and you see it thousands of times. People talk in facts. Facts are things like:

  • Your code is bad
  • This is an anti-pattern
  • This is something you should not do

You don’t know any facts! And because of this, don’t talk about facts! You don’t know the situation, maybe you don’t know the person. You don’t have the right to talk about facts, that you don’t know. This is not only unfair but also condemning.

Treat others with respect! I think there are people out there, who are just born to troll on the internet. You see them everywhere. They login into a forum and the only target they have is to discriminate other people and/or what they do. The ultimate goal should be to help others with your feedback. If you don’t have (a qualified) one, just shut up!

Don’t make fun on others! Everyone started small. Nobody deserves to make fun of someone. You hurt others with it. Here is the thing: It is not about how you say/write or think about it. It is about how the other person receives it. Often people say that it was just fun. But for whom? For you? Not for others. It’s all about others. Communication is, how others receive your communication. Others decide how they receive it. Not you.

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