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How to give feedback in the Enterprise without everyone getting mad at you

Nov 2021

Some Background
נֶ֭אֱמָנִים פִּצְעֵ֣י אוֹהֵ֑ב וְ֝נַעְתָּר֗וֹת נְשִׁיק֥וֹת שׂוֹנֵֽא׃ Wounds by a loved one are long lasting; The kisses of an enemy are profuse. -- Proverbs 27:6
True friends tell their friends when they have stuff stuck in their teeth. However, it's easy to give feedback and have others take it the wrong way. Often when you have ideas to make things better, and you verbalize them, others can take offense. How can you share good feedback without insulting others?
Some things that have worked for me
Recently a co-worker reached out and asked me to share lessons I learned from my experience. We had a great 30 minute call, which I'll attempt to recap here. Side point: I don't consider myself an expert at this stuff, on the contrary, I've made so many mistakes in this area that I'm probably the worst one to get advice from. But I suppose all those mistakes have led to some good lessons.
1 - Give Feedback as a question and seek to understand
It's way less confrontational to ask questions as opposed to saying statements. Ask geniune questions with a desire to understand why things are the way they are. Instead of saying "this is wrong", try saying "why did you do this?". Instead of saying "this is designed way too complicated", try saying "have we considered a simpler design?".
Try to understand that others may have good reasons for doings things that seem silly to you.
2 - Choose the right medium
The right medium is key when delivering feedback, to avoid miscommunication.
Here's a hierachy of methods from best to worst:
  1. In Person. The human connection and body language always help avoid miscommunication.
  2. Video Call. Same as above just virtual.
  3. Chat. Message sent via Teams / Slack etc. This way you can have a conversation and sort out the specifics.
  4. Email. Harder to go back and forth and get clarity around the message, but still better than nothing.
  5. Going around the person, and going straight to a Leader.
Now all this was for 1-on-1 conversations. If there is a group involved, then things get much trickier. The hierarchy stays the same, but the risk of someone taking offense or becoming insulted increases dramatically.
  1. In Person - Group.
  2. Video Call - Group.
  3. Group Chat. Message sent via Teams / Slack etc.
  4. Group Email.
  5. Going around the person, and going straight to a group of Leaders.
The best possible option, 1-on-1, in person, face to face. The worst possible option, an email to a large group or going to a group of leaders.

Side point: Email distribution lists are the worst because you don't necessarily know who exactly is in the distro. There may be folks in there who aren't even in the company. So beware of those.
3 - Sandwich the bad between layers of good
Start with something positive and end with something positive. Keep the bad sandwiched between the good. For example, Jim is great. Jim has this one area to improve in. But also Jim is great. This is especially useful when writing year-end performance reviews.

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