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  • Writer's pictureLearn&Chill Team

How to get ready for a great feedback session in 4 steps.

In my pretty long experience as a leader of tech organizations, I have always tried to improve my understanding of feedback dynamics through practice (a lot), mistakes (even more), experiments, and readings, and still, I think there’s a lot to uncover.

I decided to write this blog post series to share my findings, learnings, and hands-on experience hoping that someone will find it useful.



From Wikipedia: Feedback is what occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop.

Based on this very “mechanical” definition, a feedback loop can be decomposed into a never-ending cycle of three main stages:

  1. Data Collection. A behavior is observed, measured, captured, and stored.

  2. Data exchange. Information about the observed behavior is relayed to the main actor (feedback recipient).

  3. Action. A new behavior is triggered based on the exchanged data. The new behavior is then observed and a new cycle starts again.

The feedback loop provides the means for a continuous exchange of information that leads to an improvement of the overall system.

In other words, continuous improvement is the main product of the feedback loop.

Everything makes perfect sense when dealing with systems or machines. It is just a matter of defining the specific protocol and everything works.

Things are “slightly” more complicated when dealing with people instead!

The basic principle is exactly the same but there is no such thing as a “specific protocol” and the stages of the feedback cycle are way more nuanced.

The journey begins.

Let’s start with a real-life situation:

You recently joined a sales team.

John, one of the team veterans, held a presentation during a customer meeting. The meeting went smoothly and the message got through. You think that the way John kept the audience engaged could be improved.

Our feedback journey begins with a simple question:

Are you going to give John this feedback?

Whatever the outcome, your decision was most likely (consciously or unconsciously) influenced by two factors that I call “internal fear” and “external fear”.

The internal fear stems from your and John's perceived (lack of) ability to respectively give and receive feedback:

  • How comfortable are you with giving feedback?

  • How confident are you that you will be able to trigger the proper reaction?

  • How comfortable is John with taking feedback?

Understanding the feedback dynamics, learning how to give and receive feedback, practicing it, and making mistakes are the key tools to overcoming the internal fear.

The external fear originates from the context you operate in or, in other words, your team/organization culture:

  • Does your team/organization encourage and welcome feedback?

  • Does your team/organization encourage and welcome open and transparent communication in general?

  • How safe or risky is it for you to give feedback?

In this case, it is not about specific individuals anymore, a way broader approach is needed. Overcoming the external fear means operating at the “system level” to create an environment where people are not only open to feedback but welcome it as they perceive it as a flywheel for continuous improvement.

Overcoming the internal fear.

If fear is the villain of this story, knowledge is the superhero!

The best way to overcome the internal fear is to deepen and sharpen our knowledge

of the feedback cycle and master the different tools and techniques to navigate it.

The subject is very broad and I found it easier to split it into three chronological phases:

  • Phase 1. Before the feedback - How to get ready for it?

  • Phase 2. During the feedback -How to give/receive feedback?

  • Phase 3. After the feedback - What happens next?

In this first blog post, I’m going to focus on phase one and explore how to get ready for a feedback session.

Before the feedback.

This is maybe the most underrated phase of the whole feedback cycle. It is often skipped on the assumption that no preparation is needed, but this is definitely not the case!

This phase consists of 4 different steps:

  • Step 1. Data Collection

  • Step 2. Clean-up your mind

  • Step3. Think about culture

  • Step4. Ask the recipient

and I am now going to dig deeper into each of them.

Step 1. Data Collection

Data collection is the start of the preparation phase. It means that a specific behavior is observed, measured, captured, and stored (see definition).

If we go back to our real-life situation, there is no way we can give John feedback without detailed information about his performance.

In a few words, feedback requires data. Or better, feedback requires high-quality data.

High-quality data is what makes the feedback actionable, that is:

  • Specific. It is detailed and refers to a particular situation or fact.

  • Forward-looking. It gives clear insights into what the recipient can do differently to improve.

Once data are collected, their quality needs to be assessed to determine whether they can be turned into actionable feedback. If this is not the case, my recommendation is to hold on and collect more/better data.

Poor input data, in fact, not only result in unclear and non-actionable feedback (Garbage in, Garbage out) but could also compromise the receiver’s attitude towards feedback in general.

Objection:What if I don’t have time to collect high-quality data because I have very urgent feedback to deliver?”

Reply: There are situations where being timely is more important than being accurate. Sometimes you might need/want to give feedback even if you are not fully confident in the quality of your input data.

In this case, my recommendation is to be as transparent as possible and inform the feedback recipient that your information might be partial and/or not completely accurate and explain why you decided to deliver it anyway.

Objection:I understand the importance of high-quality data in case of constructive feedback but I don’t see the same need for positive feedback”

Reply: Based on my experience, making an effort to collect high-quality data comes more naturally when we need to deliver constructive feedback but it is equally important, and unfortunately far less frequent, in case of positive feedback.

This is mainly due to the misconception that positive feedback doesn’t necessarily need to be actionable. I’ll get back again to John’s case to prove it to be wrong.

Here follow two possible examples of positive feedback:

  1. “Hey John, it was a cool presentation, great job!”

  2. “Hey John, it was a cool presentation great job! In particular, the transition between the slides was very smooth, kept the audience very engaged, and didn’t break the flow of the discussion.“

What makes the second feedback actionable (and better) is the quality of the input data. John now knows exactly what to keep doing the next time he will hold a presentation.

Let’s consider now the following twist of John’s case:

John held a presentation during a customer meeting. The meeting went smoothly and the message got through. You were not at the meeting but someone from the audience (Mary) told you that the way John kept the audience engaged could be improved.

What do you do?

The situation is not unusual but a bit trickier. You are not sitting on first-hand information but don’t want to lose the possibility to give John feedback and help him improve.

I see three possible options here:

  1. You give John the feedback based on someone else’s information

  2. You hold on with the feedback

  3. You ask Mary to give John the feedback herself.

Option 1 is definitely the riskiest one and my recommendation would be not to take this path if possible. Your input data might be incomplete or not specific enough to make your feedback actionable. Also, you might not be able to answer John’s questions in case he needs further clarification. This is again a potential "Garbage in, Garbage out situation" that is not great to be in.

Option 2 is a viable alternative when you think you will have the possibility to collect first-hand data soon enough and delaying the feedback poses no risks (i.e. John is going to have another presentation in a week and there is no problem if the feedback is delayed).

Option 3 is by far the best alternative and my recommended one. It is a win-win situation because John will get first-hand and more actionable feedback, and Mary will practice “the art of giving feedback”.

This is what I call “sparkling the feedback flame” in the team/organization.

Good job so far! The first step is completed:

  1. You assessed your input data to determine if your feedback is actionable.

What happens next?

Step 2. Clean-up your mind

This step originates from the reflection that sitting on the right set of information doesn’t necessarily mean delivering it in the right way. Delivering high-quality data in a scattered and disorganized way can easily lead to a "Garbage in, Garbage out situation" again.

You can avoid it by taking time, wrapping up your mind, collecting your thoughts, and thinking about how to make it easier for the recipient (i.e. John) to easily get to the point.

The goal here is to pick the most relevant data and filter out the unnecessary noise.

The following control questions can come in handy:

  • What is the key information I want to deliver during the conversation?

  • How can I deliver it effectively?

Objection: “I believe I have good quality, structured, and well-organized data so there is no need to waste my time. I can skip this step.

Reply: Consider this step a checkpoint. If you have done your homework well it will take almost no time to get through it.

Good job so far! The second step is completed:

  1. You assessed your input data to determine if you can come up with actionable feedback.

  2. You fine-tuned your information to make it crisp and clear and easy to understand.

What happens next?

Step 3. Think about culture

If you, like me, have been so lucky to work in a diverse and international environment, I’m sure you know how much culture influences the way people react to feedback.

As the book “The culture map” beautifully explains, direct constructive feedback, for example, can be welcomed and appreciated in some cultures but considered disrespectful in others.

Even a single word can make a huge difference. Upgraders (words like absolutely, totally, etc.) or downgraders (words like kind of, sort of, a little, etc.) should be used carefully to avoid misinterpretations. The very direct feedback “This is totally wrong” can be considered ok in the US culture but completely inappropriate in the Japanese one!

My recommendation here is to take some time to focus on the feedback recipient culture and carve the feedback accordingly.

Objection: “I work with people coming from all over the world, it is an unbearable task to know all different cultures.

Reply: There is no need to know everything about all cultures, you need to know just enough. There is no need to know it as soon as possible, you need to know it just in time. It is going to be a long journey and, as long as you are curious and make a little effort, you will learn something new every day.

On top of that, ask for feedback! We should know by now that practicing, making mistakes, and learning from them through regular feedback is the best way to improve.

Good job so far! The third step is completed:

  1. You assessed your input data to determine if you can come up with actionable feedback.

  2. You fine-tuned your information to make it crisp and clear and easy to understand.

  3. You carved your feedback considering the recipient’s culture

What happens next?

Step 4. Ask the recipient

The whole point of giving feedback is to trigger an improvement in the "observed behavior". The necessary condition for it to happen is that the recipient receives the feedback in the “right way”.

The “right way” depends on many factors. How the feedback is delivered is crucial and we will touch upon it in the next blog post, but the mental state of the recipient at the time he/she receives feedback plays a very important role as well.

You might have collected great input data and thoroughly prepared yourself to deliver the best possible feedback but all efforts can be in vain if it is not the right time for the recipient to receive it.

We all know that it is extremely hard to keep an open mind and welcome constructive feedback when we feel nervous, stressed, overwhelmed, sad, worried, etc.,

So, how to move forward?

My recommendation would be to ask the recipient if it is the right moment to receive feedback.

This simple question is very powerful. It shows empathy and respect towards the recipient and sets the right stage for future conversations.

On top of that, it gives the recipient the time and the possibility to enter the right state of mind. Sometimes even a few minutes can be enough to empty your mind and get ready for receiving feedback.

Objection: If I have to wait for the right moment every time I need to deliver feedback, it will take ages. I cannot wait.

Reply: If you are concerned about your time, my recommendation is to completely change your perspective.

Giving feedback is not about you, it is about the person you are giving the feedback to. The overarching goal here is not to save your time but to deliver someone else actionable feedback and trigger a continuous improvement loop. If you reason this way, you will see this step, and the whole preparation phase, as an investment and not a waste of time.

Good job so far! The final step is completed:

  1. You assessed your input data and decided to go ahead and give John actionable feedback.

  2. You fine-tuned your information to make it crisp and clear and easy to understand.

  3. You carved your feedback considering the recipient’s culture

  4. You made sure that it was the proper time for the recipient to receive feedback.

What happens next?

Now it is time to enter the next phase of the feedback cycle but we’ll talk about that in the next blog post!

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