How to give feedback

How to give feedback in the workplace without losing your humanity, based on the principles of Kim Malone Scott's book, Radical Candor.
How to give feedback
Sharne McDonald

We all long for guidance, and it really boils down to praise and criticism. Kim Malone Scott has released her new book, Radical Candor: How to be a Kickass Boss, which draws on her impressive career in training and in management positions at some of the biggest companies in the world, as well as being CEO of her own companies. She recognises 3 types of feedback: solicited, given and encouraged. Feedback can be really difficult and awkward, but in the long run you’ll get better at what you do best.

What’s the point in the first place? Do people actually change?

A great boss will help you grow as a person. Personal growth is what gives work meaning. If a boss is only interested in reaching the companies’ objectives, taking no interest in the employees, he is doing them a disservice. Giving and receiving guidance is not about doing work in the ‘style’ the boss wants it to be done; it’s about building the relationships that build the company.

Behaviour can trip you up for years.

It’s not always about the way you do your work; your behaviour has an effect on the workplace. Giving feedback on someone’s behaviour must not criticise their personality — instead, focus on what they do right and figure out what makes them tick. The purpose of feedback is to praise each other to encourage more of what you’re good at, and to give criticism to let each other know what to fix.

How can people receive feedback better?

Eliminate this phrase from your vocabulary: “don’t take it personally.” We spend more time at work than anywhere else — it’s OK to have an emotional reaction! We care about our work and we hate screwing up. Kim gives some guidelines for a better feedback flow:

1. Figure out how to ask for feedback. This is usually awkward, but always try to understand where the other person is coming from. Alan Eustace said: ‘Sometimes the best time to ask, is when someone is mad at you — they’ll say everything they want to say.’

2. Embrace the discomfort. Ask the question, no matter how hard.

3. Listen with the intent to understand and not to respond. Don’t criticise the criticism. Think of an instance yourself and ask them if that’s what they mean. You’re in charge of your own narrative.

4. Reward the candor. Tell them how you are trying to improve and the steps you have put in place. Usually there is 5% that you can agree with; focus on that. In the end the work relationship is better, because you’ve made the effort to understand each other.

“Good feedback is measured not at your mouth, but at the other person’s ear.”

More often than not, you have shown that you care, but have not expressed yourself very well.

Care personally, but be willing to challenge.

Caring personally is not ‘needing to be liked’. Kim calls this “ruinous empathy” — when you try to spare the other person’s feelings, but in the end you might need to fire them! The opposite extreme of this she calls “obnoxious aggression” — failing to show that you care personally at all. Remember, being professional does not mean that you are less than human. It is important to challenge people directly, without forgetting that they are people after all.

Radical candor: it only takes 30 seconds.

For Kim, the origin story of Radical Candor is when she was walking her dog one day and she lost control of her. The dog jumped in front of a cab and Kim pulled her out of the way just in time. A passer-by commented: “I can see you really love that dog [care personally], but you’re going to kill that dog if you don’t teach it to sit [challenge directly]!” He pointed to the ground and said, “sit!” and the dog sat. Kim looked up in amazement as the stranger said, “It’s not mean; it’s clear.” Words to live by when giving feedback!

‘Underrepresented’ groups.

Are there differences in style of approach when it comes to minorities? Kim says, “It’s hard to be radically candid with someone who ‘looks like you’ — it’s even harder when it’s someone who doesn’t ‘look like you’.” People are afraid to give guidance in today’s political climate. It’s important to be considerate, but don’t be pushed towards manipulative insincerity.

How not to show you care personally.

Caring personally doesn’t mean baking birthday cupcakes and ‘doing the office housework’ — don’t try to be the angel in the office; you’ll burn yourself out, be mad and not get your work done.

Praise in public, criticise in private?

Do you sometimes feel you want to criticise in public to produce change? There is a fine line: debate does need to happen publicly, but not all the time. A mistake like a factual error can be subject to public criticism, but repeated sloppy mistakes that influence performance should be addressed in private. When it comes to remote employees, there is much less opportunity for impromptu feedback as the work relationship exists outside of the office space — try to nurture a forum for feedback by making frequent ‘face-to-face’ online contact.

There’s only so much feedback a person can take.

Too much of a good thing? Are you actively doing something about the feedback you give and receive (positive & negative)? At some point you have to admit when someone has not addressed the guidance they’ve been given. In cultivating a feedback culture in the workspace, Kim believes in leaving at least 3 unimportant things you don’t need to say, unsaid, every day. This way, you can prioritise what is most important. It is a human relationship, but not friendship, and when it’s not working, it’s not working.

Kim’s final thoughts on practising Radical Candor?

“Make sure that the person knows that you care about them, but also make sure you’ve been crystal clear and have challenged them directly.”

Taken from the A16z Podcast interview Giving and Getting Feedback — For Bosses and Employees by Sonal Chokshi with Kim Malone Scott

About the Author of Radical Candor: How to be a Kickass Boss:
Kim Malone Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc. Before starting Candor, she has worked as a CEO coach for several companies, led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google and was a faculty member at Apple University. Read her full biography here.

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