The most constructive way to give feedback

I had an extremely smart manager at Mercury / HP who could hold his own on both the strategic side with the CEO and also on technical topics with engineers. Robin was one of the earliest to help me get a polished side (I am not saying I’ve mastered it, he just put me on a path to “try” to be more diplomatic and refined) to  my brash and in-yer-face “talk to the hand, cos the face ain’t listening” approach. I had been known to give the Heisman (see the image on wikipedia to understand why) to many of my colleagues and while that was fine with the Israeli culture, there was a lot to be desired with most other folks.

He ordered a book for me that I’d highly recommend called “Crucial conversations” (link) to all entrepreneurs.

The book helps in dealing with confrontations at home, at work, and even with friends.How to Notice When Safety Is at Risk, How to Speak Persuasively Not Abrasively, How to Turn Crucial Conversations, and How to Stay Focused on What You Really Want.

There one really neat trick I picked up, which was worth the cost of the book.

Every time you want to argue or have a debate about a point, or provide (negative) feedback but do it in a nice way, turn your statement into a question.

For example, if you want to tell the designer that the UI he built does not help conversion and its actually more work for users to scroll down, your normal approach would be to show him the analytics and tell her that she’d designed it poorly. That’s when you realize the designer gets defensive and she’d take the extreme position because she gets a sense you are “attacking” her knowledge or turf.

Instead ask the question “What would help us get more conversions?”. Then try to have everyone come up with an answer together.

For example, if you want to talk to your engineers and you know using AWS is better than maybe hosting your own server, your approach might be to show him multiple blog posts and other articles about why his position is wrong. Again, you’d get a engineer who’s being challenged and now believes its best to defend his position regardless of how wrong he might have been. Rare is the person that would easily take this feedback and admit they were wrong.

Instead present your hypothesis as a question. “What if …”? “What would”, “How can we”?, etc.

Then focus everyone on helping answer that question, making them part of the decision instead of being the ones to only implement it.

Try it tomorrow and the day after and let me know if you notice a difference.

Always ask questions instead of making statements of fact (even if you believe you are right).

It makes you come off as humble and truth seeking not the “know-it-all”. It also helps you focus on what you want as the end goal, instead of the minutiae.

7 thoughts on “The most constructive way to give feedback”

  1. Hi Mukund, Very well written and useful too. There’s always something to learn from you as usual !

  2. Thanks for sharing, lot of tech and leadership gyan are available. But such small things are rare to find. Sharing with you a small lesson, a product manager(IIM-I) taught me. “Whenever arguing on a point, remember you disagree with the person’s opinion and not with the person” So simple, but worked really well. Implementing this tip from now. 🙂

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