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5 Concrete Tips For Giving Better Feedback

tdmoor profile image Thomas De Moor Originally published at x-team.com on ・4 min read

Feedback is a vital aspect of personal growth. After all, without feedback, it's hard to know whether you're doing the right thing in the right way. This is particularly important for developers, who need to write code that ideally runs as smoothly as possible upon release. Receiving feedback throughout the coding process will invariably up the quality of your final product.

As such, it's in the best interests of any group of developers to give feedback to one another. But that's easier said than done. Giving feedback isn't just bluntly saying what's wrong with someone's code. There's a skill to giving feedback.

4 Requirements for Constructive Feedback

Before you'll be able to give constructive feedback, you'll want to have these four requirements in place. Only then will feedback to really effective.

Feedback Needs to Be Part of the Culture

Giving constructive feedback shouldn't be a one-off thing. It should be a deeply embedded cultural attitude that's a specific part of your business process. This should be less of a problem for developers, as many developer teams embrace software approaches such as Agile that have feedback baked into them.

Regardless, you want your team to continuously exchange feedback, but you also want to keep on improving how that feedback is being delivered. Giving feedback requires feedback too. The better the feedback process, the better the actual feedback, and the better the end result.

Recipients Need to Feel Safe

In order for a developer to ask for feedback, they need to feel safe. If you're afraid that sharing your code with others will damage your reputation or hamper your career growth, you won't ask for feedback and won't share your struggles.

Developers need to feel safe enough to share their troubles and ask for help, no matter how small the issue feels to them. It's in this vulnerable environment where feedback really thrives.

Recipients Should Want to Grow

Feedback is a terrifying thing if you believe you can't grow. If you think you're at the peak of your abilities and someone tells you that some part of what you've produced could be better, you'll feel demotivated and possibly even defensive.

You need to believe that your abilities can grow over time. In this scenario, feedback provides an opportunity to get better. You'll become eager for it, because it's one of the fastest ways to improve your skills and become a better developer.

Think About the Context Before Giving Feedback

When you're about to give feedback to someone, make sure you're giving feedback in the right context. For example, if you're in a brainstorming session for new feature ideas, giving feedback on someone's idea is destructive and might stop the flow of ideas from others.

But if you're critiquing someone's code for maintainability, constructive feedback is exactly what's needed. Ideally, at the beginning of any meeting, someone should clarify what the meeting is for and whether it's the right or wrong place for feedback.

5 Concrete Tips for Giving Better Feedback

Now that we've covered the requirements that should ideally be in place before giving feedback, let's get into the nitty-gritty and talk about the 5 concrete tips for giving better feedback.

Be Specific and Problem-Focused

Vague feedback is unhelpful. When giving feedback, try to pinpoint the problem. Say explicitly how you would change it and why. There's no need to talk about the recipient either. Stay focused on the problem. You never want the recipient to feel attacked.

Weave Positives in the Negatives

It's helpful to weave a few positives throughout your feedback. It'll make the recipient feel better and make them more receptive to your suggestions. However, don't over-emphasize the positives either. Be genuine and bring across your feedback with empathy for the recipient. If you noticed something positive, mention it, but keep your focus on what could be improved.

Make it a Dialogue

Feedback shouldn't be a one-way street where the recipient has no chance to reply. Let them explain why they've made certain decisions. It'll allow you to course-correct on a deeper level, as their replies might uncover wrongly-held beliefs or assumptions.

Be Timely

Don't give feedback weeks after the facts. Try to be as timely as possible with your feedback, so it's still fresh in the mind the recipient. The only exception would be when something was so bad that the recipient needs some time to cool down and feel less embarrassed. However, for the most part, it's best to give feedback as quickly as possible.

Avoid Loaded Language

Receiving feedback isn't the most pleasant thing in the world. Many recipients will have to suppress defensive feelings. As such, you'll want to avoid any form of loaded language. Try to stay neutral in the choice of your words. It'll reduce any possible conflict or friction.


These were the 4 requirements for creating an environment where feedback thrives and 5 concrete tips for giving better feedback. What are your tips for giving feedback? Let me know in the comments below 👇.

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X-Team

X-Team is a 100% remote international company, originally founded in Melbourne, Australia. We help companies scale their development teams by providing them with extraordinary teams of developers from around the world.

Discussion

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Hi Thomas,

One of the key things I keep in mind when giving feedback (and you touch on it with your "Think About the Context Before Giving Feedback" point) is to always seek permission from the recipient before starting to give feedback. In some cases, the feedback is a natural part of the surrounding work (e.g., code review), but in other situations (over coffee, for example), I always preface feedback with "I have some feedback I'd like to give you, when is a good time?".

Almost always, the recipient is happy to hear the feedback immediately, but there have been enough exceptions to the rule that asking the question is now hard-coded into my mind.

Great article! Feedback is hard; giving, receiving, evaluating, all of it :-)