By: Brayan Pabon Gomez
During my internship at Harmonic this summer, I discovered that a big part of the work was done collaborating with clients. Collaboration is no easy task, especially when delivering service design capabilities to an organization looking to integrate its features and offerings successfully.
I realized that for effective coaching and communication between Service Designers and client partners, a specific skill has to be polished and exercised daily. I’m talking about giving feedback.
Meaningful feedback can help create a healthy work environment and improve people’s professional and personal development. Incorporating good feedback practices helps to reduce conflicts, enhances the team’s disposition towards criticism, and makes work more efficient.
Here is a collection of ideas and best practices (compiled from conversations with different harmonicas and researching a few articles, videos, and podcasts) on effectively providing feedback.
“Your role here is to support and motivate but not force or control.“Patrick Quattlebaum, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Harmonic Design
Check out the Feedback Board resource in Miro
Set a time for feedback – will it be a regular session, or will it be only when they request it? This allows people to create mental space and be prepared to receive feedback. Ask them how they would like to receive it: privately, in small groups, using a self-assessment format.
Also, ensure they understand that there will always be opportunities for improvement and that feedback is a tool for growth.
Bonus Tip: In a group session, mix formats to ensure all voices of feedback are heard: small groups, one-on-one, speed dating, written rather than spoken.
Setting goals is crucial to define what you are giving feedback on and why – what are areas of growth where help is needed. Once the goals have been established, set some evaluation criteria.
Determining these criteria will help measure progress and help them self-correct and continue to improve on their own.
You will always have to deal with feedback on tangible and intangible matters. Tangible matters are artifacts resulting from the work (slides, documents, maps, final deliverables, etc.). Intangible matters are skills, behaviors, and culture (presentation skills, communication skills, confidence, commitment, etc.).
Giving feedback on intangibles is way more problematic as it can be taken personally. In this case, be careful and practice these recommendations.
Try understanding the situation and context first to gain clarity and apply suitable sensitivity. Giving feedback to an intern is not the same as giving feedback to an executive; think about the role, time at the company, age, etc. Switch modes between educator (more corrective) and advisor (more reflective) depending on what you sense.
Sometimes people might perceive positive feedback as condescending. Make sure to express your ideas as honestly and sincerely as possible.
Give feedback as soon as possible. It helps to quickly correct when the time is correct and prevent the message from being lost. If you are not giving feedback right after, keep things in mind, take notes, and communicate later.
Good timing is also avoiding micromanagement. Do not make too many comments or too often.
Be kind and honest instead of nice and disingenuous. Also, ensure that your feedback is not derogatory, insulting, or dismissive of the person in front of you. Remember that giving good feedback has absolutely nothing to do with being mean.
“Questions empower and inspire. Your role is to activate people’s judgment, to give them freedom.”Stephen Taylor, Head of Design Research, Harmonic Design
To give a more diverse view, you can use several thinking lenses that allow you to encompass different perspectives in your feedback. One way of doing it is putting yourself in the shoes of others who think differently from you but who you know well enough to replicate their perspective.
You can also think about constraints, hunches, concerns, and processes that work and need improvement. Frame your feedback as multiple ways of looking at the work. “That’s one option, but this is another way to look at it.”
Instead of criticizing bad behaviors, approaches, or outcomes, highlight the good ones. This way, people can see how to do their work better based on a good example.
Offer real examples from previous work. Put yourself in the spotlight to empathize, to show that we are not perfect and have made mistakes. Use personal stories: “Here’s something we did, and it worked.” Tell a story about when you screwed up: “This is something I would avoid in the future.”
Foreign ideas are hard to digest. We hate being told what to do, so the best strategy for giving feedback is to ask questions. People are already aware of their performance and the quality of their work. They know the answer to their issues and are just looking for affirmation or validation. Questioning helps them see more clearly the answers.
Be a close observer. As a coach, make an effort to connect with your trainees’ work, behaviors, questions, and goals. This will help you go deeper into your observations and provide more specific- actionable feedback.
“There is no negative or positive feedback, there is critical and specific feedback. The WHAT and the WHY are what matters.”Leah Berg, Service Designer, Harmonic Design
Giving background information will help your critics to have a better understanding of your work and your goals and thus give you good quality feedback.
Think about what you want from the feedback session, and make it clear at the beginning. This will help your coach/reviewer focus on their feedback rather than general comments. Also, make sure you are prepared to ask specific questions about your work, questions that will help you get the most out of the session. Generic questions like “what do you think?” are usually not very helpful.
Respect feedback by listening actively; don’t interrupt to justify your choices or to disagree. Instead, if in doubt, ask questions that allow the reviewer to be more specific and detailed about their point.
Take notes during the feedback session. If you are presenting, ask someone to take notes for you. If you can record, do so. Since you may receive feedback from multiple people, you need to review and analyze what everyone said and decide what applies or doesn’t apply. Just because someone told you something doesn’t mean you have to act on it; everything is up for interpretation. Be critical based on your goals and discard what is not helpful for your learning process.
Sometimes you won’t get what you need in a feedback session. In those cases, you should ask for more feedback from other coworkers (peers, subordinates, managers), advisors, mentors, or customers. As a person who wants to grow, you must learn to pull what you need instead of waiting for it to be pushed onto you. It is about actively seeking to improve and grow.
And remember, don’t take feedback personally. Always take feedback as a learning opportunity. It’s about the working ways, not you.
Design consultants are constantly required to provide critique and feedback as part of their responsibilities, especially those who collaborate with multidisciplinary teams trying to incorporate design capabilities into their processes and culture.
Effective feedback can help these teams to be more productive, improve communication, and overall, to have a much more satisfactory consultant-client relationship.
Now you can apply these tips to improve the feedback culture of your team and organization!