Giving constructive feedback

Giving feedback

NEAR is building an Open Ecosystem where all decisions are made together by the community.

Any decision will have a driver and team to execute it, but arriving at a decision involves presenting the case, then collecting and addressing feedback from the various stakeholders and communities in NEAR.

Some times people also want to give feedback to people on the impact of their actions (or inaction), their performance or anything else. This is different from feedback on decision but still very powerful tool when used correctly. See section “Unsolicited feedback” on how to give that.

This is a short guide on how to give feedback effectively in order to be heard and not to be an asshole.

This is intended to serve as a resource for reminding people when they are not being constructive.

Decision / ideas feedback

More and more decisions and discussions are happening async and offline. Hence it’s critical that when you offer feedback in written form, it follows these rules:

  • Always come with expectation that decision driver knows what they are doing, have a reason to do it, and have done their homework.
  • Make sure you actually read what has been posted. Don’t just skim through, but actually engage enough to understand the points.
  • If something is unclear to you, leave feedback that some parts are unclear. For example, it’s possible that decision driver has not explained why they are solving this problem or not included some necessary context. Sometimes the proposal won’t include a clear way to give feedback. DO NOT assume things, instead ASK.
  • The feedback should be your own. If you think someone else should leave their feedback - ask those people to comment directly by sending them a message. DO NOT try to interpret their words yourself. DO NOT CC them in your comments.
  • There are two types of feedback: personal feelings or opinions, and offers of additional information.
  • If you have feeling feedback, clearly state: “This proposal makes me feel XYZ, because of ABC.” Don’t expect that all feeling feedback will be addressed directly. Everyone CANNOT be happy all the time. Compromises MUST BE made.
  • If you have information to offer, provide it in the form: “Based on , XYZ”, where source is something linkable (not a person). If you don’t have first-hand information - ask people who do to comment instead.

Unsolicited feedback

Sometimes you want to give unsolicited feedback, which is not contained by specific decision or idea. Instead it is more about person’s performance, behavior or approach.

Make sure it’s a good time to raise this to the other person. For example, ask yourself first: “Is this the appropriate time to offer this feedback?” If they will not be in the right frame of mind to receive it, set it aside and follow up when it is.

If you are feeling pissed, angry, or disappointed in someone - chill out first and then give feedback later. It’s really hard to be constructive on either side of giving/receiving feedback, but if you are angry, you will not be able to follow the guidelines below.

If you see a problem that you are directly affected by:

  • Describe the observed behavior
    • “I have observed XYZ,” “I noticed you are doing XYZ“
    • E.g. “I noticed that you didn’t prepare an agenda for the meeting.”
    • It is fine to identify behavioral patterns, but also give concrete examples. Telling someone they “often” or “always” do something is vague and can sound accusatory. If you give examples, you can more easily discuss solutions.
  • Describe the impact, either on you or other people
    • “This leads to XYZ,” “I don’t have time”
    • E.g. “If don’t know the topic, then I’m not prepared for the meeting, and we end up not getting to decisions,” or, “I’m concerned that my team doesn’t have enough time to finalize this.”
    • Be specific when you describe the impact. Did it affect an individual or a team? Did it cause a missed deadline or sour a client relationship? If you foresee a negative outcome later, you can also note the likely impact.
  • Express your feelings
    • E.g. “I feel frustrated, because I see us missing this goal all the time,” “I felt frustrated because I couldn’t understand why these changes came at the last minute.“
    • Share how the behavior made you feel. Give this its own step so that it does not cloud the other steps.
  • Get curious
    • Be genuinely curious, and avoid assumptions. In particular, be curious about how you yourself might be contributing to the behavior.
    • E.g. “I’m curious if your priorities are different from what my expectations are? Is there any way we can align this?” “I’m curious: what do you think is causing these last-minute changes? I wonder if there’s something that I’m doing which is contributing to this.”

Anti-patterns / DO NOTs

Make sure you are not using inflammatory / accusatory language.

For example, avoid:

  • “Nobody is doing this”: this doesn’t really lead to a solution, because doesn’t explain who is responsible/accountable nor is it grounded in a priority.
  • “Why is X not done? It’s your job”: This can be perceived as an attack and is actually an assumption. You may not have all the information about whether something is actually their job, and are not clearly stating the underlying issue you are observing (e.g. impact).
  • “Stop what you are doing on Y and do X”: this also assumes that what people are doing is completely wrong and is perceived as a command or worse, an attack. This would increase the blood pressure of the reader and cloud their understanding of the real message.
  • “XYZ told me you said ABC about idea/me”: leads to broken game of telephone and people getting agitated. Instead, ask directly what this person thinks about your work or the situation.
  • CCing a bunch of people on a feedback post: this generates mob mentality where you imply that many people support the point you are posting, when that may not be true. If you want other people’s opinion, ask them directly to contribute their opinion to the conversation.

Be curious and be open to changing your mind. For example, there could be a reason why something you think is important is not actually a priority right now. Be open to things taking time, as people can’t always make changes right away.