Why I can’t always give real time feedback
Feedback is great. Feedback is a gift. Yeah, yeah. I’m an Agile coach. Giving feedback to teams, managers, leadership, and organization is my job. But hey, I’m sorry that I can’t always give it to you immediately. It doesn’t exactly work that way.
I understand that it’s easier to fix things when you get the feedback right away, and I’m all for that when I can do it. But I can’t always give it immediately. Sometimes I will see something grossly wrong or a situation I’ve seen before and I can give very prompt feedback or ask an appropriate question to guide toward a solution. I know that is what is preferred and believe you me, I prefer it, too.
No one wants someone to give them feedback weeks or months later so that they are unable to go back and improve between the lead time after the event and when the feedback was given. Additionally no one wants to get super generic feedback without some specific examples to back it up. It’s not helpful if you can’t put yourself back in the situation with some shared context. But at the same time, it’s also not helpful if for the sake of giving quick feedback if it’s not well thought out. That is my dilemma.
When I see a complex situation as most knowledge workers see every day; it takes a bit to actually process what is going on. There are many facets of how people are interacting, what their shared understandings are, and what processes are in play to name a few. While we are expected to be able to react quickly, often they are just that: reactions. I don’t want my feedback to be purely reactionary. I want it to be proactive, well thought out, and able to be implemented in a forward motion.
I’m an introvert and to me this means I really need time alone or with few people to process information. Often after a planning meeting or other type of ceremony, I go back and look at my notes. I read them over. I put myself back in the situation. I think about what I saw and what I didn’t see. I process it. And process it. And assess it. And them process some more. I recall memories of similar situations. I recall things I have read in books, blogs, or stories I have heard from others. Only then am I in the situation where I can truly provide meaningful feedback and advice to start moving in the right proactive direction. Some problems are cut and dry, but some definitely aren’t.
When I try to provide feedback immediately in overly complex situations, I often focus on the wrong thing. I focus on a symptom that was most obvious without looking for the root of the problem and I miss things. Sure, the feedback makes folks feel efficient in the short run, like they are proactively working on something, but in the long run it’s usually not the most important thing and they will hit similar snags before they can find their stride.
So as I have talked about personal retrospectives before, the same goes for feedback. Retrospect and provide meaningful, actionable feedback instead of reactionary feedback that may be on the wrong thing but do so in a timely manner. Try to give the feedback within a week of when you witnessed the event and also make sure you give a specific example of what you saw, heard, and what context it was in relation to. It’s ok to reflect and introvert as long as you set the expectation ahead of time with the receivers of your feedback that it may not be immediate (but it will be better for them that it’s not).
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“Observations can be given freely. Feedback should be invited.” – Jerry Weinberg
Great chat last night on observations vs. feedback, Tom. How do we learn to separate judgement when necessary to be constructive? Are the observations biased in judgement as well based on which we choose to share?
Hey Natalie. Late responding :). I think you don’t separate judgment from observation. Judgment is used to construct feedback to observed activities and behavior. Observations are not inherently biased because they should be based in fact (we see what we see.) However, we can apply judgment to observations without critically analyzing what happened and more importantly, why.
In Chapter 7 of their book, “What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback,” Edith and Charles Seashore and Jerry Weinberg write of various feedback laws.
The first law they write about is Law of Intake, where one is unaware that feedback is being given.
Another law: the Law of Conservation of Laws wherein when the data and their model don’t match, most people discard the data. It’s one of the strongest reasons why most feedback that is intended to change other people’s behavior is a waste of time.
The Feedback Prevention Law says we will not even wait to ignore feedback, but we will take active steps to prevent feedback in the first place. We interpret the feedback according to our existing models of our worlds and that’s why feedback seldom produces the desired change.
I invite you to read the book. It was published in 1992 and its wisdom applies today. They provide a definition of feedback and other related information, examine various feedback models, discuss the compulsion to give feedback and giving it when it’s invited, fears and other influences around giving and receiving feedback,and other important principles and concepts. I think you would find it beneficial and enlightening.
Happy holidays!! Tom