alacrity in action

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No, it’s not going to be about the next version of the Android operating system.

I missed the Energized Work book club yesterday but managed to see the video by Benjamin that was being discussed. Together with this presentation I bumped into on twitter it prompted me to consider how we give feedback.

The traditional management approach to giving feedback was to get it all out, straight and with no adornments. Perhaps you might have experienced something like this:

You are really poor at wiring these specifications. No one can understand them. Developers are complaining, customers can’t read them. It really isn’t working. I know you can do better, you just have to try harder.

When I was doing my line manager’s training I was told we need to be more considerate and should use the “sandwich” approach when giving feedback; our information should come in threes: positive – negative – positive. Wrapping damning remarks in a cosy blanket of positive appreciation is supposed to make them more acceptable and easier to act upon. To improve even further we can go a step further and replace the negative critique with constructive criticism: positive – constructive – positive. Let’s try:

Hi. I have spoken to our customer recently. They really liked how you kept them engaged when you were writing the specification. Great job, it really worked. There was just this bit where you described the calculation rules. Nobody seem to have understood it, not even the developers. You should improve how you communicate the technical details and keep you positive attitude. I really like how you approach your tasks with enthusiasm and dedication.

I don’t know. Is it better? I followed good advice, will it really help the person improve?

Coming back to this dialogue later I was trying to remember and write what I might have been thinking during that meeting:

I have all these new ideas about being a good manager. I must try them out.

I’m off to a good start, nice piece of personal positive feedback. They feel good so I can get on with the real stuff.

Thy didn’t have a clue about the technical side of it. I should have written it myself! I’m not sure if they will ever learn.

Anyway, time to close off with a positive spin.

Am I not the best manager ever?!

Even if it’s a bit exagerrated it’s not very far off. How often do we think like that? How often do we even check what we think?

Well, at least I’m glad they didn’t hear that, right? Wait… No! It’s me who didn’t hear that. They, on the other hand, surely have picked up hints from my tone, gestures and posture.

Not that good after all.

So how about this:

– Tell me a little bit about your last piece of work. How did it go?

– […]

– Sounds like it went well then. I’m glad to hear that. I was speaking with out customer earlier today and they really enjoyed it too. Thanks. So did you find anything difficult with this task?

– […]

– Yes, those calculation rules looked very complex indeed. It would have been a challenge for anyone to document them well. What do you think?

– […]

– I think we could try to find ways to present such information in a cleaner way. Would you like to try that? Is there anything I could help you with…

Now this looks like it may actually lead to some meaningful improvements.

Less advocacy, more inquiry.