Pretty Words Are Not True

By, Shanthi Balasubramanian

A three-part series on constructive feedback.

Part I

Feedback or the lack of it is an issue that we have to deal with in every aspect of our lives. Starting from the kitchen table to the work table. “This curry is interesting”, said my son at the dinner table. Interesting? I can understand when the curry is spicy, hot, salty, bland but interesting? Pretty words!

Feedback – To Give or Not To Give

Collectively, we all agree that feedback is an important mechanism for the success of any product, process, event, or service. The proof of the pudding is that none of us received links to the photographs for the STC India Annual Conference, Hyderabad,  without first providing feedback. So, if all of us are “seemingly” on the same page when it comes to feedback, why the arm twisting?

But, I loved it. I am now thinking of implementing this very innovative strategy to put my feedback forms to use. There is a permanent email address posted on the back cover of every document that we release, requesting our customers to send us their feedback. Till date, we have received none. So, what if I should modify my request thus?

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I will most probably lose my job.

Purpose of Feedback

The purpose of feedback should be to initiate a dialogue between the recipient and the giver of feedback in order to:

  • Communicate an understanding of the situation presented
  • Deliverables v/s expectations
  • Appreciation (where appropriate) / Improvement areas

It is not easy to ask for feedback or for that matter to give it. Asking for an evaluation of your work is just as hard as giving your opinion about someone else’s work without bias or being judgmental. So, at what stage does the feedback process begin?

When to Begin

Before we actually discuss the importance of the feedback mechanism and the types of feedback, we need to understand where to begin. Let me share a small story with you.

Once upon a time, there was a young entrepreneur who owned a circus. However, he was not successful for long, and soon lost his business. One day, he met a kind old philanthropist willing to invest in his business on the condition that he would come up with an extraordinary act. “Tell me what you have in mind and I will open my purse for you”, he said.

The young man worked hard and six months later, he came up with an amazing plan. He however, did not think it important to share his idea with the philanthropist or ask for feedback. Instead, he decided to work on his own. He trained a flea to perform various acts, such as, flipping on the table, flying backwards, and even taking a bow at the end of the act. He did not disclose or share any of this with the philanthropist. He decided to surprise him. One fine day, he set up a meeting with the old man and took the flea with him. On entering the meeting room, he quietly let out the flea. The flea jumped onto the table and started performing its act. On seeing the flea, the old man quickly retrieved a bat and killed it. “Ah… how I hate fleas. So, what have you been up to?”, asked the old man.

This story raises many a question such as – The young man assumed that the flea was a good choice. He assumed his plan was a good one and would work. He did not think it was important to discuss his ideas or get feedback on whether the philanthropist would be willing to invest in his idea. The old man assumed the flea was a flea and put his bat to use. The young man perhaps got carried away by his surprise element and did not think of keeping in touch.

Now, let us create a situation in our work place around this very same story. Suppose you attend the first meeting where the idea of a product launch is discussed. You have a few brilliant ideas about the documents the product may need, a few marketing collaterals and such. But, instead of discussing it with your team or getting feedback on your ideas, you decide to simply go ahead and work on them – surprise them. Most likely, you will be the one in for a surprise. They may totally reject your documents on the grounds that they never asked for it in the first place.

So, can we safely assume that feedback is better when started right at the inception of a project? I would say – YES, it is. Gather feedback early on, quickly and as much as you can.

Defining Feedback

“Feedback is the process in which the effect or output of an action is “returned” (fed-back) to modify the next action. In an organizational context, feedback is the information sent to an entity (individual or a group) about its prior behavior so that the entity may adjust its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result.”

Source: BusinessDictionary.com

Types of Feedback

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Positive

Negative

Constructive

An example of Positive feedback could be: “Congratulations, you have done a great job!”

But how useful is such feedback that does not specify “great job”? While such feedback can be a good morale booster, it can be useful only if the feedback is combined with specific comments such as – “You responded within the stipulated time and ensured that the system was up and running even during the bank holiday. So, you did a great job!”.

An example of negative feedback could be : “The customer is extremely upset. Your timesheets are ridiculous”.

While this feedback is wonderful enough to instill hurt it can be more useful if supported by evidence such as – “You should compare your timesheets with the budgets.  Perhaps , it will help us understand why the customer thinks our timesheets are not good enough”.

In part 2 and 3 of the series, we will concentrate on understanding what is constructive feedback and how to give/receive such feedback.

About the Author

Shanthi is engaged with Kripya Engineering as Documentation Manager and handles several documentation assignments. She has 20+ years of experience in documentation varying from the Corporate to the IT sector. She loves to write, believes in continuous learning and remains fascinated by all that happens in the world of Tech writers.

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