How to give great online feedback
Probably one of the best things we can all get better at right now is giving written feedback.
In this time of remote working and zoom fatigue, much more of our conversations have become asynchronous. This means that the communicating between us isn’t happening at the same time — unlike say, a phone call.
There are some serious pros to asynch communication when your goal is to help someone to learn something.
I’ve really welcomed it helping people to reflect with what what they’re learning. Yet it’s also easy to miss getting your points across without an intentional approach to giving written feedback.
So to help avoid the downsides I’ve been doing a lot of testing about what makes the most consistently useful way for giving great feedback.
Here’s my framework below!
Written Feedback Steps
- Say something positive and grateful to bracket the conversation, that also isn’t a white lie about how good their work is. Eg ‘so great to hear from you this morning!’, ‘wow this work you’re doing sounds really interesting, I’m excited to read about it’, ‘this topic area feels really vital right now, thank you for bringing it to share’ etc
- Frame (aka summarise) their work in the task/process present to show that you really understand where they’re coming from, and what you appreciate about it. It’s rare that something will ever be 100% shit and you will give better feedback when you have taken the time to review. 1 + 2 acknowledge that anyone asking for feedback is making themselves vulnerable to you, and you need to affirm their safety to do that and make them feel heard. Most people do not feel fully listened to, and there’s also some neat research on if people feel they’re already partway through a process that they’re more motivated to finish, so situating it in the wider context is important, rather than just in isolation. Also if you’ve got it completely wrong then they can reply that that isn’t at all what they meant.
- It’s usually pretty obvious where people have got off the track, but if you’re not sure, or they’ve asked you to feedback on way too much, then throw it right back to them and ask ‘are there any particular parts that you’d most like my thoughts on?’ ‘I’d be really interested to know where you’re instinct is telling you that you think things lost their clarity?’ and usually people will hone it down for you.
- Use inviting rather than commanding language in the feedback itself — ‘one thing I would suggest reflecting on would be X’, ‘how would it be if you focussed more on Y?’ You don’t need to worry about your less assertive language damaging your being taken seriously (as might in regular conversation) as you’ve already established their respect, and this will enable it to continue feeling like an equal exchange rather than subservient, and also with such contextually relevant work, you should never suspect that you always know best.
- Finally if feels necessary you can chuck in a social proof before or after the 3+4 combo, so they don’t walk away feeling stupid that it was a simple tweak (usually). Something like ‘wow it feels like you’ve got such an ambitious user needs statement here, I really like that sentiment but I think agree with your feeling that it’s a bit too broad to be workable — this is a very common place to start from though, I still find myself honing them down from the first draft I write!’.
- Finally, bracketing off the end with quick positivity and optimism that you’re sure they’ll be able to improve it. Like ‘I really look forward to seeing the problem you choose to take forward!’