Bad feedback goes both ways. We typically associate bad feedback in the “bearer of bad news” sense where the recipient is the one at fault, but more often than not, the feedback provider and the feedback itself are the problem.
We’ve all been guilty of dishing out at least one of these subpar assessment archetypes. Whether it’s poor quality, timing, delivery or all of the above, here are five fatal feedback flaws and how to fix them:
1. Being a stickler over style rather than substance.
Unnecessary stylistic changes that do nothing to enhance work is the collaborative equivalent of pushing food around a plate -- you’re not really doing anything aside from usually making a mess. Everyone’s work style is different, which is exactly what makes the collective contributions to a final product so special. While certain situations may call for a particular style, in many instances there are various interpretations that can apply equally well.
Forcing pointless stylistic conformity on your team or needlessly nitpicking can quickly alienate these colleagues. Focus instead on the more substantive aspects of their work rather than zeroing in on the peripheral.
2. Having too much ambiguity and too little clarity.
Muddled feedback does nothing but raise frustrations and waste time. Efforts should be channeled toward moving projects forward rather than back and forth. Lack of clarification is a common error that leads to issues whether your thoughts are incorporated initially or not. Should your team (smartly) request further input before proceeding, it will hold up the project while you fix feedback that could have been more thoughtfully conveyed the first time around. Even worse, if your team chooses to actually follow your convoluted advice, the end result will likely require even further untangling -- which might not be possible when you’re up against a deadline and frittered away time going in the wrong direction.
Don’t let process impede progress -- be direct and consistent with your feedback and consider it from the perspective of those receiving. Also, even seemingly flawless feedback might require further explanation, so make sure your team always knows it’s alright if they need to ask you for more information.
3. Delaying input and neglecting real-time fixes.
While it’s important not to rush providing feedback, there is value in immediacy. Constantly postponing your input for extended periods will eventually make your team dread having to send you anything. Be known as someone who will turn around their thoughts in a timely manner as well as being receptive to follow-up reminders from your colleagues on the rare occasions where deliverables fall off your radar.
One of the biggest missed opportunities in properly giving feedback is also doing so in real-time, especially for minor fixes. If there is an immediate fix that is easily doable, address it right away or team members might ask, “why didn’t you just tell me that months ago?” Always try to meet small problems with swift solutions.
4. Acting only as a critic and not an editor.
Simply identifying what’s wrong isn’t the start and end of the collaborative cycle. In fact, it’s the easy way out. Literally anyone can say they don’t like something, whereas it takes a higher level of thinking to identify and propose workable alternatives. There’s nothing wrong with being critical in your responses, assuming it’s done tactfully, but criticism in the absence of helpful recommendations goes nowhere. If work requires a change, give context as to why and then offer resolutions for improvement. This also prevents the guessing game that can ensue when you solely point out problems and leave your team to assume what’s expected.
5. Resisting pushback from recipients.
Collaboration means breaking a few eggs along the way, and as stated earlier, feedback is reciprocal. Shutting down alternatives or rebuttals that might come back your way is close minded and effectively breaks the creative loop. Don’t assume your word should always be the final one because it limits the possibilities of the end result. The best ideas can come from anyone and you should be receptive not only to new suggestions, but also to areas you may have overlooked. Set aside your ego and embrace the role reversal of receiving feedback yourself.
Improving the input that you give colleagues won’t happen overnight, but the first step is being conscious of areas where you can get better. That said, if there are any feedback flaws or fixes I’ve left out, I’d love to hear from you about additional struggles you’ve come across and how to improve. Just share and comment with your thoughts.