Analytical 24: Feedback

22 March, 2018


Giving and accepting feedback to and from your manager or direct reports or even your peers is sometimes a missed opportunity. We explore how to make feedback useful again.

Transcript available
[Music] Everything can be improved, iterated and refined. And if you don't think that's true, maybe you haven't analysed it enough. Calculated choices, carefully considered, absolutely analytical. This episode is sponsored by Makers for Good and their impressive Helio. Helio solar-powered light, flashlight, and power bank that's perfect for camping, hiking, emergencies as a night light or for wherever your adventures might take you. We'll talk more about them during the show. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows visit today. Feedback and not the kind with a microphone held up against the speaker. Now I did discuss some of of this in the honesty episode but there's actually a bit more I wanted to say about it here and simply put feedback well it's important but I believe that constructive feedback must be actionable to be useful to anyone and not just that feedback can't just be a single point in time occurrence like you tell someone something once and then you just forget about it no it needs to be cyclic so feedback action needs to be something like this. Obviously we start by providing feedback. We monitor and we observe for a course correction of some kind and if there's no course correction then we need to repeat that feedback and we go back to the start. Okay then again if there is a course correction we can provide some positive feedback and say hey that's that's good. We can monitor and observe for continued correction and if the course returns to where it started well repeat the feedback and go back to the beginning again then again if the course correction continues provide some more positive feedback and you're done at least on that point anyway. Of course you might find yourself in an infinite feedback loop either positive or negative and it can actually go both ways so let's look at each in turn. So negative first so you continue to apply feedback to correct the incorrect action and nothing changes no matter if it escalates it flatlines or a deescalates it just doesn't change. What do I mean by each of those? So escalation or escalating negative. So increasing the intensity and the language to each feedback cycle to drive the point harder and harder and harder until everyone just shuts down and gives up. So things like it turns into things like threats like if you don't blah blah blah blah then I'll blah blah blah blah and that's just pointless and no one wants that and that's just a waste of time. So feedback loops could flatline negative ones can flatline so the same intensity continues ad nauseum and nothing ever changes so you feel both parties gonna feel hopeless and it's just not good for everybody. Basically it's broken record feedback. There's no value there. Then of course there's the de-escalation of negative feedback which is that lack of improvement that leads to a slide in the feedbacks language to the point at which that feedback becomes so gentle or passing that makes no impact. Maybe it's something like "yeah you know like we already like talked about stuff and how things should be changed and yeah it's all good and stuff yeah and it's like that's just that's just pointless so of course the same kinds of things can happen with a slightly different twist and different outcomes for positive feedback loops and it can be just as bad in different ways if it escalates positive feedback escalating so the intensity in the language to each of those feedback cycles becomes more and more over-the-top and outrageous that it can no longer possibly be true and no one will take it seriously anymore. So you'll hear stuff like, oh, I just love the way that you tied your shoelaces this morning. It's like you're talking to a 30 year old guy. Like really? Shoelaces? OK. Or you just managed that meeting so well, man. There was like it was amazing conversations and stuff. Yeah. Kind of pointless. OK, then there's flat lines. So the same positive compliment continues ad nauseum and nothing ever changes. And then people just think it lacks any and all sincerity to the point of complete pointlessness. So doing a great job next week, doing a great job next 100 weeks, every week, doing a great job. Yeah, great. OK, next kind of positive feedback is the deescalating kind. So it usually comes after you flatline for a bit and you're trying to correct. It's like the feedback language softens to the point at which it becomes a passing thought, passing murmur, and it makes no impact and says there's no value. So yeah, you're doing good. Next week it just becomes good. Maybe after that it becomes, eh, that doesn't really help anybody. Okay. Anyway, the key point though, is that feedback needs to be a loop to a point, but then you should see improvement one way or the other. So you need to be able to recognize if you're stuck in a loop, that you've got to break out of it. And sometimes you've got to change it up, try a different tactic, whatever, or whatever alternative actions might be applicable, depending on whether it's good or bad, what the feedback is in the situation obviously but the idea is loops are important but feedback loops that are stuck in a loop are not good. Makers for Good, formerly Extrasensory Devices, are an innovative company based in Palo Alto, California and they've recently released their Helio, a solar-powered lantern light, flashlight and power bank. The Helio has an intensely bright flashlight at 150 lumens but if that's too bright or if you want more longevity it has medium and low light settings as well. The same too for its lantern light, but as a bonus the lantern light also provides a red light as well as a white light. There's also an emergency flashing mode in case you need a signal for help. 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Okay, so getting back to the feedback itself though, because there's something to talk about there, because good feedback shares a few key attributes and the best delivering feedback is emotionless, it's factual and in many respects hence that that makes it professional, it must suggest one or more actions that the person can carry out to improve and the content needs to be delivered in a timely fashion. So let's talk about each one of those in turn. So emotion. Problem with emotion is emotion detracts from the message. If you're extremely agitated or excessively gentle in the delivery of your feedback, then the person on the receiving is far more likely to completely misread that feedback. Keeping it as emotionless as possible ensures that the message remains clear. And I don't mean be a robot, you know, "you need to do better". No, that's not what I mean. Be human, sure, but keep your feelings out of the equation as much as you can, it just muddies the waters and gets in the way of the message. Facts, is the next one. And by that I mean, no opinions. I'm reliably told that opinions are like arses and everyone's got one. I mean technically that's true but I don't know analogies whatever. Point is facts on the other hand there's just one of those it's a fact that's one that's it it's a fact that's it there's only one of them. Now if you're delivering opinions then it's quite possible that the feedback isn't valid or if it's a soft skill and it needs to be shown it's a pattern of behavior and that you can actually get a factual sample of behavior if it's an ongoing thing and you can cite all of these examples that there has been occurrences of the same behavior under different circumstances then that can become a fact because that behavior is a fact and if you're delivering an opinion the message will just get dismissed as just being well your opinion versus my opinion so I guess there's nothing for me to be worried about here there's no problem and just like that your feedback gets ignored. That doesn't help. Keeping it professional. So it needs to come from a position of professional improvement. The feedback delivery should be in a way that demonstrates and models the way people should work professionally. The less professional it is, the more casual it is, the less likely the recipient is going to be to take it seriously. It could just be two people chatting over a coffee or a beer but that means that if you're trying to deliver a message in that environment you might not be taken seriously. You You might think that you're putting that person at ease when in fact you're just confusing the message and for many kinds of feedback that just isn't a good idea. Reasonably actionable. Needs to be something that the recipient can actually do something about. Otherwise, what's the damn point? If the recipient was hired to create documents in English and then someone told them after the fact to write documents in French, but they don't speak French. Well, that's just stupid. But, you know, it's not reasonable to expect them to learn French on their own time to do their job now that they're not- Their job's been redefined for them without their knowledge or consent. So, it has to be something that they can improve, that they can correct, that is reasonable to expect someone to action. Otherwise, there's no point. It's just a beat up. Has to be timely. If someone delivered something badly six months ago and you bring it up today, well, that message is going to get hit by a pretty quick comeback. Well, you cared so much about it that you took six months to say anything. Yeah. And that message just gets ignored. Doesn't matter if it's valid or not. It's like, that's ancient history. Don't care. OK, great. So feedback has to be somewhere in the minutes to days time frame in most situations. Otherwise, it's a waste of everyone's time because it just ends up lacking impact the longer you wait. Time isn't your friend. Finally, the format is important as well. Off the record and on the record. So if it's off the record, it means it's just a conversation. Best to start there, watch for improvements. But it becomes a he said, she said. It's not something that's easy to escalate if you need to. If you need to push harder, in some cases, push back on. If it's off the record, it's hard to do that. If it's on the record, it's in writing. It's official. It can be used for formal performance management, salary reviews, bonus assessments and so on. It's also therefore a measure of seriousness. So if it's in writing then yes they really really mean it and yes you really really need to listen and take notice. It's also important to separate technical feedback from interpersonal feedback. So poor time delivery for deliverables whether they're document software, physical anything's widgets, I don't know whatever and also the quality of those deliverables. So it like the deliverables are giving you don't work, just plain wrong, that sort of thing. Technical feedback, that's that. Interpersonal feedback is different, like you're not showing up regularly on time, your boots are dirty, you're not wearing shoes, you slap me and it hurt, please stop, that kind of thing, you know, that's more interpersonal feedback. Behavioral feedback, non-technical feedback, all of the above, that's that. If you join key feedback types together, then the recipient will tend to attach to either one or the other and one item of feedback will most likely be ignored in the process. In the end feedback is critical for both parties and don't think that this is all slanted towards leaders and managers giving feedback. If you're not in one of those categories some and I'd like to say good companies and good managers will ask you to give them feedback on their performance just as often. Now apart from whether or not you think that's a career limiting move or not, you know, because maybe some people that is a CLM, hey, and how much faith you have that your manager will take it well when you give them feedback if it's not positive. Well, it applies all this applies equally to that feedback back up the management chain or sometimes even to your own peers. Beyond those options, though, maybe it may help you to filter any feedback you're being given to from time to time. So if your manager isn't following the concepts that we just went through, well, maybe it can help you to appreciate better where they're coming from and how you can improve even if they can't put it into words very well themselves. At least you'll know better. And in the end, if you have any feedback about this specific episode, stick to the facts, make it something I can action and make it quick and timely and we'll get on just fine. Feedback accepted. If you're enjoying Analytical and want to support the show, you can, like some of our backers, Chris Stone and Carsten Hansen. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon and you can find it at or one word. Patreon rewards include a named thank you on the website, a named thank you at the end of episodes, access to pages of raw show notes, as well as ad-free higher quality releases of every episode. There's a back catalogue of ad-free episodes available and a new making an episode tier as well, so if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, there's lots of great rewards and beyond that it's always very much appreciated. I'd like to thank Makers for Good for sponsoring the Engineered Network. Visit for more information about their impressive Helio solar-powered light, flashlight, and power bank and use the coupon code ENGINEERED for 20% off exclusively for Engineered Network listeners. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network and you can find it at And you can follow me on Twitter at [email protected] or for our shows on Twitter at engineered_net. Accept nothing, question everything. It's always a good time to analyze something. I'm George Higgy, thanks so much for listening. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music)
Duration 16 minutes and 13 seconds Direct Download
Episode Sponsor:
Makers4Good: Makers4Good are an innovative company based in Palo Alto, California and they’ve recently released the HELIO: A Solar Light, Torch and Powerbank that’s perfect for camping, hiking, emergencies, gazebos, use as a night light or wherever your adventures might happen to take you. All profits from the sale of the HELIO go to providing light and power for those in need. Visit and use the Coupon Code ENGINEERED for 20% off the total price of your order.

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.