Don’t Kill Them Softly: Fostering a Culture of Fearless Feedback

Like opinions, everyone has feedback. And like opinions, harmful or useless feedback can kill your team softly by demoralisation.

Implementation is important when launching products and the same is true for feedback. Culture can shift at the drop of a hat if feedback is utilised to critique and destroy, rather than to observe and build.

This talk is for new and seasoned managers alike, as well as individual contributors. Using design anthropology methodologies, Amélie Lamont will share a framework you can use to foster a fearless feedback culture that focuses on creating value, rather than pointing out flaws.

You’ll identify how to separate feedback from critique, as well as how to respond to positive feedback or critique. You’ll also explore best practices she’s learned from managing teams to interacting with team members, like resolving conflict, letting go of ego, creating a baseline of respect, assuming positive intent, and being proactive.

Today Amélie is talking about feedback.

Act I: What is feedback?

We’re not taught how to give or receive feedback.

Our emotions kick in. We tend to have a really binary approach to feedback – it’s either good or bad. We don’t have a range, we don’t see feedback as a spectrum. We are not emotionally equipped to receive feedback.

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill; and needs to be exercised like a muscle to make it stronger.

Act II: qualities of good feedback

A definition: feedback is reactions to a person’s performance of a task which is used as a basis for improvement.

Effective feedback is constructive. It can help you. It doesn’t break you down, it exists to point out things that you are doing that could be better. The aim is to help you become a better person.

Effective feedback is consistent. Why do some companies wait an entire year to give people feedback? Don’t wait so long. Have something weekly or monthly at least!

Effective feedback is timely. It can’t wait until later, it has to be done in context, when it’s relevant, when people can remember it!

Effective feedback is specific. “That wasn’t good” is too vague.

Effective feedback is cooperative. It needs to be a two-way conversation, looking for a resolution.

Act III: giving feedback

Consider:

  • What is your intention? Feedback-for-vengeance is no good.
  • Can you ask for permission? Leading with “can I give you some feedback” opens a conversation. It gives people a chance to say no, as well.
  • Are you looking at the person, or their behaviours?
  • Are you being direct and specific?
  • How are you delivering feedback?
  • Don’t make assumptions! There may be some really good reasons for the behaviour you’re seeing. Ask!
  • Are you providing positive and corrective feedback? (‘corrective’ is better than ‘negative’… you want to correct a behaviour)
  • Is the feedback factual or interpretive? (someone turning up late: the time is factual, “you don’t care about the team” is interpretation)
  • How will this feedback affect the organisation?
  • How will this feedback help the person grow?

For managers:

  • Think of power structures
  • People can’t grow without feedback
  • Be fair, create transparent structure

(improv on stage)

Act IV: receiving feedback

  • Receiving feedback doesn’t have to be scary
  • Be open to the feedback you receive
  • Try your best to listen and do nothing
  • Think of ways to dig deeper and find answers – if you get vague feedback, ask questions, ask for a specific example, understand what’s motivating the feedback.
  • Decide if you want to take the feedback or not. You don’t actually have to take the feedback. Not all feedback is good.
  • Managers – invite feedback from your direct reports.

Act V: crafting a culture of feedback

  • Feedback culture is necessary for feedback. If the environment doesn’t allow it, then it won’t happen.
  • Create boundaries and guidelines
  • Focus on building relationships (bonus tip: do not give feedback to anyone you do not have a good relationship with! particularly your own boss)
  • Create elements of safety and trust
  • Be open to failure, mistakes and change
  • Do your best to assume positive intent
  • Allow people to build each other up, regardless of power structures
  • Don’t feed people negativity sandwiches (good feedback, bad feedback, good feedback)

(more improv, which I will not attempt to describe – go watch the video ;))

Act VI: remaining open

(a poem to finish, again – video! :))