Giving feedback

Aim to assist: Feedback must be given with positive intent. Giving feedback in order to get the frustration off your chest, intentionally hurting the other person, or furthering your political agenda is not tolerated. Clearly explain how a specific behavior change will help the individual or the group, not how it will help you. “Material Point Method is a wrong approach for the problem” is wrong feedback. Right feedback would be, “I don’t think the Material Point Method is the most suitable method for this problem since it is not good at capturing the micromechanics at the grain-scale level, which is critical for identifying the fundamental science.”

Actionable: Your feedback must focus on what the recipient can do differently. Wrong feedback would have been to stop at this comment, “Your review feedback is unhelpful.” The right feedback was, “Your feedback is often too concise and takes longer to comprehend.” Even better would have been: “If you can find a way to offer more descriptive feedback, it will help us understand your thoughts behind the comment and clearly list what the next steps should be.”

At the right time: Offer feedback at the time which is most useful for the recipient. If someone goes off on a tangent in the middle of their presentation, and our funding agency or collaborators are losing interest, the best time is right then in the middle of their presentation to bring them back to the problem at hand.

Receiving feedback

Appreciate: Natural human inclination is to provide a defense or excuse when receiving criticism; we all reflexively seek to protect our egos and reputation. When you receive feedback, you need to fight this natural reaction and instead ask yourself, “How can I show appreciation for this feedback by listening carefully, considering the message with an open mind, and becoming neither defensive nor angry?”

Accept or discard: You will receive lots of feedback from lots of people in the group. You are required to listen and consider all feedback provided. You are not required to follow it. Say “thank you” with sincerity. But both you and the provider must understand that the decision to react to the feedback is entirely up to the recipient.

Ask for support: When you set a goal for yourself based on others’ feedback, let them know you are working towards a certain and you would appreciate their comments if you digress from that goal. This continual feedback loop helps make your goal a habit.

Following these guidelines is not easy. It requires serious practice. But the potential is huge. Quality feedback is fundamental to a more progressive way of working.

Extended based on the guidelines from “No Rules Rules” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer.