Don’t you hate it when you work hours, days or even months on something and then someone puts all their focus on that one tiny error that slipped by you? Perhaps it depends on how they say it. “I can see you worked really hard on this and all of it looks very impressive. We’re so happy with it! But we did notice one thing…” and “The _______ is broken. It doesn’t work!” are two very different approaches to providing feedback. The first is obviously padded with a compliment, acknowledging the hard work that went into whatever it is you’re working on. The second is the cold, hard truth with absolutely no consideration for how the person will receive the commentary.
I think it’s important to acknowledge the way in which we provide and receive feedback or criticism. That’s why I appreciated Rian’s blog post Stop telling us how much everything sucks on his blog elezea.com. He says (emphasis is mine):
“It’s easy to write a few paragraphs about how much something sucks. You know what’s difficult? Recognizing and respecting complexity. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to understand why they made the decisions they made — whether it’s related to business, design, development, or anything else.
What’s really difficult is starting your argument from an assumption that other people are deliberate and thoughtful, and then working through each of your criticisms methodically. You’ll either realize that they made the right decisions, or arrive at the conclusion that they made some mistakes. Even if they did make mistakes — and we all have — by starting from a different baseline you’ll end up with a solid (and respectful) critique that the person can use to do things better.”
I think what Rian is getting at is that you should never forget that the end goal of providing criticism is to improve the work, not make the person feel bad. If you only point out the flaws without giving the person recognition of their hard work they won’t feel appreciated or inspired to do better. They’ll probably feel discouraged, belittled and defeated.
So next time you give someone feedback, particularly if it’s negative, think about how you would want to be told the bad news. My guess is that with a little empathy, your feedback will sound a lot different than your initial instinct.