How to give feedback so people will listen

When you share your ideas it helps your whole team perform better. But, it doesn’t really matter how good your ideas are if you can’t get other people to listen to them.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

At Asana we want all teams to work together effortlessly, and so we think about the best ways to give feedback a lot. Here are some things we’ve learned.

Give the feedback that you’re uniquely qualified to give. Maybe hold back on the rest.

For example, if I’m sitting in design crit, I don’t need to repeat feedback that someone else has already shared. Other times, it’s my responsibility to represent a voice who’s not in the room and I need to make sure it’s clear who I’m representing.

Sometimes I’m the right person because I’ve worked on the problem before — but the other person doesn’t know that. It’s important that I explain my context so other people understand why my feedback is credible. I’ll let people know I’ve done this before so they realize it’s more than just a blind opinion.

Frame your feedback for your audience

Also, remember to draw your feedback back to their goals. This helps in 2 ways:

  1. The exercise will help you realize when your feedback isn’t really important for their goals, or when you don’t understand their goals well enough to be giving feedback.
  2. Framing in terms of their goals will motivate them to want to hear and act on the feedback.

This can be tricky to do on-the-fly, so it may help for you to prepare your feedback in advance or asynchronously. Then you can take the time to think about what you want to say and how best to deliver it.

Focus on Psychological Safety

Studies show that the most important factor in high performing teams is the belief you won’t be punished if you make a mistake. If you give feedback carelessly it can feel like you’re criticizing your teammate for making a mistake.

Imagine grilling a new hire in a crowded room about why they made a decision you disagree with — they might feel like they’re being publicly shamed. Or if you relentlessly hound someone who’s chosen not to take your feedback they might feel like you don’t trust them and have no tolerance for letting them make their own mistakes.

  • Once your feedback has been heard and understood, don’t drag the other person into endless arguments — disagree and commit. If you’re having trouble being understood, ask a mentor for coaching on how to explain your point.
  • Frame feedback as “I like, I wish, I wonder”. This encourages curiosity and lets you give feedback in a way that doesn’t make people defensive.
  • Consider giving negative feedback in private. But be careful — one place this doesn’t apply is when someone is trying to get several people aligned on the same page. There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking everyone got aligned in a meeting and finding out later one person still isn’t happy. Don’t be that one person!
  • If you’re getting defensive or notice the other person getting defensive, slow down, go up a level, and take a moment to enjoy the place where you both agree. Remember you’re on the same team, with a common goal, and that you’ll all be the most successful if you can create an environment where people feel safe to share ideas and take risks.

That’s it! The trick to giving feedback so people will listen is to give the feedback you’re uniquely qualified to give, framed for your audience, with a focus on psychological safety.

Have any other tricks or stories about giving and receiving feedback? Let me know!

Co-Author of Cracking the PM Interview, the best selling book on product management http://amzn.to/2dLr46H. Advisor at Asana. Previously @ Google & Microsoft.

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