Lessons Learned From Failed Feedback
VP of Engineering at Coder
I was at a presentation given by a senior executive. During the Q&A portion a question was asked of him that came across a bit entitled from the attendee. He tried to respond in a sober, dispassionate way but instead the tone of his voice and facial expression telegraphed frustration, impatience, and a little bit of disdain. Having been around this person, I knew that was not the intended effect, so I decided to give him feedback on the situation.
Later, I happened to be in a different meeting with this senior executive. After the conclusion of the main part of the meeting I went up to him and told him what I had observed during the earlier Q&A portion. I did it in a non-accusatory fashion but I brought it up out of nowhere. It had no relation to the meeting we were just in, making it a less than ideal setting. Plus, although I knew this person, he was not somebody that I had a high degree of intimacy and trust with.
Despite there being no clear blow back, the whole encounter felt clumsy and ineffective. Clumsy because I gave feedback in a way that relied on a nature of relationship that clearly didn’t exist. It would have been better to speak to someone on this subject whom I had a better pre-existing relationship with. Also, the conversation was too spontaneous. Finally, I didn’t set the stage properly. It was a private conversation yet it took place in a physical situation where other people were around and could listen in. Even though I didn’t consider the information super sensitive, I did not establish safety and receptivity necessary for effective feedback.
- If you don’t have that trusted relationship with somebody, consider not providing feedback. A huge part of feedback has to do with how receptive the other person is. If you are not able to establish that receptivity then the information will bounce right off.
- Be sure that you give feedback in a private situation. Set a safe space where the other person doesn’t feel intimidated or defensive.
- Set the stage for feedback. Make sure it’s done at an appropriate time so that the other person isn’t distracted. Find a way to break away and transition from the previous agenda into giving feedback.
- Typically I believe that there is too little feedback given and so I am not happy with how this situation went. I don’t want to give people another reason to be hesitant about giving feedback. So I hope that my failed attempt can be useful to others. This is an example of how giving feedback didn’t go well so I encourage others to learn from my mistakes and give feedback often.
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