Get better feedback

Sometimes we go through life blind to the obvious. Did you know that the name “Chips Ahoy!” is a play on words of the nautical term “ships ahoy”? If you are like me your jaw just hit the floor. Well maybe that’s a little dramatic.

Most of the time the “obvious” discoveries are small and insignificant. But sometimes these truths force us to examine our behaviors and make changes.

In the last couple of years I’ve realized that I’m a verbal processor. Deep down I may have known this, but I wasn’t thinking about how it was affecting my work. I have no problem opening my mouth in meetings. I process concepts out loud, and am able to verbalize ideas quickly.

Something that should have been obvious, but wasn’t, was that many of my coworkers weren’t wired this way. Being a verbal processor doesn’t make me better or worse than those who need time to process their thoughts. But understanding how I am built has forced me to change the way that I work.

I found habits that weren’t serving my team. By forcing people to work the way I work I was missing out on great feedback. I wasn’t creating space for my coworkers who didn’t operate like me, and it was hurting all of our work.

Create space for your teammates to do their best work

I will be the first to admit that I am a work in progress. I practice the ideas I am going to share. But I drop the ball all the time.

So let’s kick this off.

Don’t put your teammates on the spot

If you aren’t a verbal processor you may feel cornered when your coworker asks you for quick feedback. One of the changes I’m attempting is: taking the time to set my coworkers up. If I want feedback, I give them a heads up. I share my designs, thoughts, and sketches… and I give them time. I ask for feedback within a reasonable amount of time.

Time allows people to internalize and process feedback. Time is good. We often feel rushed. We don’t do our best work when we’re rushed, why would we give our best feedback?

Pausing creates space to rethink, question, and discuss. Repeat after me. Pausing is okay.

Give your teammates context

Soliciting feedback without providing helpful background is something that happens regularly. If your teammates don’t have the right context, they simply can’t give you the feedback you need. Take the time to bring them up to speed. Write a back story, outline the things that are obvious to you, and share your research.

When we are immersed in a project, we can can assume that others know everything that we do. Often times this isn’t the case. Surface the information others need. Don’t assume that everyone has been given the data, the reports, or been included in all the conversations. Humbly give them context.

This can also go the other way. Don’t assume people are clueless. Check your biases. Ask others if they have been clued in, if they haven’t, make sure they have the information they need.

Funnel your team’s feedback

“Here is what I have been working on, what do you think?”

Soliciting general feedback like the statement above is setting everyone up to struggle. What exactly are you looking to get feedback on? What areas do you have questions about? Are there areas that you aren’t an expert in but someone else is?

Focusing your feedback request saves your teammates time. They just might appreciate that. And scoping your feedback will help dig deeper into the areas you really want help with.

Create space for everyone

I can be the loudest person in the room. My natural tendency is to speak. For me it takes practice to sit and listen. This is an area that I am trying to improve. For others speaking out is an area of practice. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with have been the most hesitant to share. This shouldn’t exclude them from the conversation.

If you are a “loud person”, use that power to creates space for others. If you are in a meeting and people have been given context and time, ask those who aren’t as assertive to share. Make space for those who don’t create space for themselves. Explicitly solicit their opinions. Step in when others are dominating the conversation. If it is you dominating, then practice listening…

No I mean it. Listen. Go to a meeting without saying a word. It will be enlightening.

Be aware of your shortcomings

I can’t be the only one who wants to stick my head in the sand when it comes to the areas where I need to improve. Ignoring my weaknesses may help my ego, but it doesn’t help my relationships, or my career.

If we are brave enough to admit our shortcomings, then we can start practicing the things that will help us grow.

This is hard. But it’s worth the work. Everyone around us will benefit, and so will we.

So start practicing.