How to give good feedback

In the content team at Cisco we have a saying: if you’re working on something alone, there’s a problem. We all know the benefits of working collaboratively, how important it is to get different views (or insights, to use some business speak) on a work product. So, very often we’ll be asked to feedback on each-others work, however actually giving feedback is a skill in itself. So, what’s the best way of doing it?

Get the backstory

Often, if you’re a brand person (like me) someone will flash some artwork across your desk. “Is this ok?” they’ll ask, accusingly, daring you to point out some flaw in their perfect project. But, it’s impossible to give any sort of constructive feedback without knowing first what is trying to be achieved. What’s the brief? What’s the objective? What’s being communicated? You can ask people: what do you want your audience to know, feel and do? Once you know that you should ask them if they feel it hits the brief or make suggestions based on what they’re trying to achieve.

Practice empathy

Try and work out what type of feedback will best serve the person asking. If they’re asking you to look at something five minutes before a collateral goes live you’re probably going to want to only feedback on major things: major red flags, spelling, URLs, hashtags etc. If they’re in the earlier stages you can help them with the strategy. If the work is already complete then the feedback you give might start “Next time”. (This is especially true if you’re giving unsolicited feedback!) Concentrate your feedback in areas that are most time appropriate.

Tell the truth

Your feedback is there to serve the creator. You don’t help anyone by lying. Telling the truth about others work may be difficult but it’s worse to skirt around it and ending up producing “sub-optimal” work. Not only will you be doing them a disservice by not giving truthful feedback you’ll damage your own reputation by not giving good feedback when asked.

Be specific

Don’t ever say: “I just don’t like it.” That doesn’t help anyone. Why don’t you like it? How does it make you feel? What’s missing? What’s too much? Make sure that you are giving examples. If you were producing the work – what specifics would help you?

Practice and reflect

Like any skill, to give good feedback you need to practice and reflect. How did the feedback help? Could you have phrased something differently? Did they understand your feedback? Some people like to give a feedback sandwich (what works, what didn’t then back to what works), does that work for you? Practice!

Finally, when someone is asking for feedback, they are asking for help. Help them.

What’s your feedback?