Believe me, recommending that she needs a total outfit change when the toddler is wearing his pants around his head and she only has three minutes to get out the door is definitely not a wise move!
“Do I look good in this?”
Have you ever been asked some version of this minefield of a question? If my wife asks me this before she heads off for work in the morning, then giving the right answer is more complex than it seems (especially since I’m not what you’d call a “morning person”)! The answer depends on several factors: How long does she have before she needs to leave? Have our kids been running around causing general mayhem? What does she have on her schedule today? Believe me, recommending that she needs a total outfit change when the toddler is wearing his pants around his head and she only has three minutes to get out the door is definitely not a wise move! Neither is telling her the outfit is fine when it’s actually far too casual and I know she’s got an important presentation to deliver at work that day. When it comes to setting her up for success, the answer ultimately depends.
The tendency for most respondents in this situation is to be very positive and not provide much constructive feedback. This often defeats the point of the person asking in the first place.
This same principle applies when we get asked for feedback from someone at work about something they are working on. Be that an important presentation they need to deliver, an article they’ve written or a new design they’ve been stewing over. These are situations where someone needs, and wants an independent opinion. They’ve typically sought us out because of our expertise and because they trust us… or, possibly, just because they needed some insights and we were the only other person around at the time. Firstly, we have to recognise that it’s great when someone comes to us for feedback. Receiving feedback is a situation most people find uncomfortable, so anyone who is proactive and brave enough to actually ask for it will always get a big thumbs up from me. However, the tendency for most respondents in this situation is to be very positive and not provide much constructive feedback. This often defeats the point of the person asking us in the first place. It certainly won’t help them improve in the long run.
There’s no point telling someone the entire slide deck needs a total do-over when they’re clearly stressed and have their eye on the clock.
Let’s imagine for a moment that someone has asked you for feedback on a big presentation they’ve got coming up. They’ve just completed a practice run through with you, and now they’re asking you what you think. Before launching into an epic monologue detailing all of your thoughts on the matter, there are really four essential questions you need to asks before you answer:
“What are your goals? What are you looking for feedback on?” It’s worthwhile clarifying what the person is trying to achieve and what aspect of the work they want feedback on. “All of it” is not a good response. Get them to be specific. What outcomes do they hope to achieve? Is it the delivery they want you to focus on? Is it the content? Is it the structure? This not only helps you to focus, but it also helps you to avoid overloading them with too many suggestions.
“What stage are you up to? What are your timelines?” Is this the first run through they’ve done, and they’ve got a few more opportunities to practice? Or is the presentation in an hour? This will help you moderate the type and volume of feedback you give so it is useful and actionable. There’s no point telling someone the entire slide deck needs a total do-over when they’re clearly stressed and have their eye on the clock. In this scenario, providing some quick fixes and focusing on changing one or two key slides is more reasonable. Once this is done then help them get focused and into the right mindset for the presentation – they won’t have much time left!
“Do you want me to be balanced, positive or constructive?” Sometimes when people ask for feedback, they really just want a figurative “hug” [link], and that’s okay. It’s good to clarify and get permission up front before you go no holds barred on them. In your opinion, they may not have done a great job, but this also may not be the time or the place to pull apart their approach. On the other hand, it might be exactly what someone wants (and needs) and they are mentally prepared for the onslaught!
“Who’s the intended audience? “What’s their level of expertise on the topic?” Whilst you are the person that they’ve chosen to provide feedback, you are not necessarily typical of their target audience. This context will really help you to target your feedback. You may be a technical expert and find the content too simple, but they may be presenting to some total beginners, and, therefore, simple is exactly what’s called for.
These considerations work really well for most scenarios where you’ve been asked for your feedback on reviewing something, be it a presentation, document, design or anything in-between.
Photo Credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels
Want to up your feedback game? Take the Leadership Playbook 4-week challenge here: https://www.inthegame.com.au/leadership-playbook-grow
Also, check out “Why Giving Out Sandwiches Won't Win You Friends” to find out why the “sandwich” approach to feedback doesn’t do what you think it will do and what you should be doing instead.