Why should I care about this?
It’s not particularly earth-shattering to say that receiving feedback is key to helping you grow; you need to understand your strengths, and how you can double down on them, as well as account for your weaknesses. However, giving feedback is hard. There have been whole books written on it. But like any other skill, giving feedback is something that can get easier with practice.
Giving good feedback is something I have personally struggled with in the past. It always felt either awkward to tell my colleagues what they could do better (as if I knew best) when speaking to them directly, or difficult, sneaky, or rude to say mean things about them if talking to their manager.
How to start giving feedback
The word ‘feedback’ can often be used in a…. ‘constructive’ setting, as if it’s little more than a byword for criticism. However, feedback simply means giving a reflection or reaction to something - and that can be a positive or negative thing. The simplest way to start giving feedback is to start saying nice things about your colleagues.
This does not mean simply giving out compliments at random - be specific. Think about giving thanks or praise as a basis for this; when you are thanking someone, what is it concretely you are thanking them for? When praising a colleague’s work, what is it in particular that made that bit of work great?
When you do this, be liberal with your feedback - do not just say so on a PR comment, but if someone has been doing something consistently well, message both them directly, and their manager, and anyone else invested in their growth to tell them. In engineering, this might often mean the Tech Lead on their team as well, for example.
I started doing this after I praised a colleague on something they’d done that I thought was particularly great. I didn’t think of doing so as anything exceptional, and certainly did not consider it feedback. But this colleague asked me if I could pass this on to their manager (lifehack: if someone says something nice to you at work, ask them if they can tell your manager too - they’ll probably be more than happy to and will take them maybe 30 seconds). Their manager was grateful to me for the increased visibility on their impact, and from there I began making a habit of passing on positive feedback on my colleagues.
How this helps
Whilst this is only one side of the giving feedback, it remains valuable. Because the this-could-have-been-better kind of feedback is often politely termed ‘constructive’, it is easy to dismiss the benefits of providing positive feedback on your colleagues. However, doing so will help them understand what they are doing well, and reinforce positive behaviours for them.
Moreover, in passing on this feedback to your colleagues, their managers, and other stakeholders, you will also find yourself making light work of the potentially-challenging process of building trust and rapport with disparate people throughout the business: people will get to know you and trust your good intentions.
In doing so, when you do need to give the tougher kind of feedback to or about one of your colleagues, you can do so with the safety net of a firm relationship with someone who knows that you are not simply complaining, but are genuinely trying to help your colleagues improve and grow in their role.
Giving feedback can be daunting - just as, or even more so, than building a new software project. However, just as with software, you do not need to do everything at once. Indeed, it is easier and preferable to start small, do the simple thing, focus on delivering just a small amount of value, and iterate from there.