5 ways to really piss me off when you give me feedback

(And yes, the title is rude because I’m annoyed!)

(And didn’t someone once say you should add some personal-flavour to blogging and social networking?)


If you really want to annoy, demotivate and alienate people, follow these 5 simple feedback “un-rules”:


Give it without warning

Throwing out feedback without asking can be horribly surprising for the person getting the feedback. Even feedback-givers with good intentions can screw up by jumping into their message without first asking (or at least warning) the other person. What was a simple conversation or meeting suddenly turns into one person telling the other what they do or don’t like about their performance….

You might be tempted to think this is only an issue when giving feedback on negative performance, but my experience tells me otherwise. I once told a fantastic colleague “out of the blue” what and how I found she was doing well –> she became very shy and uneasy about the rest of the meeting. Try to avoid the “Where did that come from?” effect.


Give it without permission

Letting people know that feedback is coming is one thing, but I always find it better to actually ask permission to give feedback first. It can be as simple as saying “I have some feedback to give you. Would that be OK?” Asking this question will also help you to avoid the first issue, maybe even deferring the feedback to a moment that is more comfortable for the other person.

 (Of course, if you are in a position of hierarchical authority and you feel that the other person does not have to give you permission, go ahead – I am rarely in this position now, but I don’t say it’s impossible)


Give it via someone else, rather than yourself

There are 3 good reasons to pass feedback to someone via a third party:

  • You have no guts
  • You are manipulating
  • You are the n+2 and feel that all feedback must come via the n+1

Personally, I think the last reason is pretty lousy – actually often a form of gutless corporate manipulation made possible by hierarchy and organigrams. But hey, I suffered a lot once from gutless corporate manipulation, so I may be a little biased…

I am also aware that some cultures can be more direct than others with their communication style, but as a general principle, I think that if you have something to tell someone, it should be YOU that tells them.


Create no dialogue, even though you are dealing with a competent human being

I think it’s a good idea to link the “next steps” or “here’s what you could do” part of feedback-giving to a situational leadership style.

I won’t go into too much detail here and I am ignoring S4/D4 here (read Leadership and the One Minute Manager by @kenblanchard), but the principle is simple for today:

  • If the person is incompetent, you need to tell them what and how to do better
  • If the person is competent, you may not NEED to tell them what/how to do: Discussing, involving and asking may be a better option


Be wrong

I just did this to one of my daughters tonight. I told her I wasn’t very happy that she said “XYZ” to her mother. In fact, she said X and Y, but not Z. Fail!

Nothing sucks more than inaccurate feedback.

When it comes to objective vs. subjective feedback, it’s important to note that accuracy is possible in BOTH cases:

  • If you are talking about measurable performance “facts” collect and cite them well
  • If you are talking about your own feelings and opinion (with regard to the other person’s performance) then make it clear that it’s your opinion – don’t make the mistake of pretending (to yourself or others) that it’s a fact


All of these 5 fails were achieved by someone giving me feedback last week

 How do I feel?

  • Angry
  • Misunderstood
  • Vengeful

Now, I add one final thing: My wife has just read this and says “Hey DAN, the last part is very strong and not very business-like”.

Do you really think that business people don’t feel these things when you give them lousy feedback?



Thanks for reading.

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