Give Feedback to Colleagues: An Example of How Not To

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This story is so hard to tell because I still hold so much regret about it and because it impacted a really good person’s career in a negative way.

So I was at a high-tech company and I noticed that one of my direct reports didn’t have a problem hitting deadlines, she always hit them, but what she delivered from a design perspective was routinely subpar, old-fashioned designs, they were often off-brand, and instead of providing direct feedback by saying something like, “hey I feel this and future deliverables could be improved if we did X, Y, Z, what are your thoughts on that? How could we do this together?” I instead spent a few months trying to too gently nudge them towards Improvement.

I opened up conversations about really great examples I had found. I recommended classes for them to take, conferences for them to attend – it was all a kind of dancing around the discomfort I felt about being direct. It reached a point where now other teams and stakeholders were noticing the low quality deliverables and they were coming to me about it. And again rather than sharing this explicit feedback – what I was seeing and feeling and now what others were seeing and feeling – at a time that that would have been most valuable for her, which which would have been immediately, I kept avoiding stepping into what I felt would be an uncomfortable conversation. You can probably see where I’m going here, right?

We had a big project coming up in about three weeks and on that project my direct report again underwhelmed various teams to the point that now my manager directly asked me to let this colleague go. And uh it it stung and it still stings because I felt that if I had delivered feedback when my direct report needed it and with total clarity she at the least would have saw this coming and at best would have had a chance to improve enough in her role so that she could have been successful.

So if you find yourself delaying giving feedback, I really encourage you to lean into that discomfort, have the difficult conversation. Timing can be everything and being candid can be a beautiful type of kindness when it comes to giving feedback. I learned this the hard way. Feedback really should not be put off, it shouldn’t wait for the quarterly performance review, it shouldn’t be held like poker cards. Try to give it as close to the actual incident or observed behavior as possible. At some point, I really believe this, your success and the success of your team will depend on you doing this.

Feedback Resources Before You Go

[Video] Feedback meaning

[PDF] A complete glossary of feedback types