In IT projects, working effectively as a team is as important as writing good code. No project can be fully successful when the team members are fighting between themselves or – what’s worst – are not speaking with each other at all. Open communication is the basis of good teamwork and giving regular feedback is a great way to foster it. In Wunderman Thompson Technology, feedback is one of the pillars of our work culture. We use feedback on many occasions - to assess our progress, to guide our growth, to influence others, etc.
Giving feedback is not easy, and sometimes neither is receiving it. Motivational feedback (sometimes called positive) is as important (if not more important) as the constructive one (sometimes called negative). I believe however, that giving the constructive one is much more tricky, so I will mostly focus on that kind of feedback in this article. There are various methods of giving feedback that are designed to help us give feedback effectively. One of them is FUKO. That is: “F” (pol. “Fakty”) for facts, “U” (pol. “Uczucia”) for emotions, “K” (pol. “Konsekwencje”) for consequences and “O” (pol. “Oczekiwania”) for expectations. The method is quite simple at first glance, but there are some caveats when using it - first part of the article will tell you how to avoid them. Second part of the article will tell you how to push your feedback-giving skills to the next level.
Good feedback is based on facts. Facts are usually indisputable and thus form a good base of your message. They also help you stick to rational arguments during discussion. Opposite to that, would be basing feedback on your opinions and judgements. Opinions are by definition subjective. Moreover, your interlocutor can perceive them as unjust, harmful, or even aggressive. That in turn, might spring an argument, and that is something we want to avoid (with exception of constructive conflict, which can be healthy for the relationship – but that is another story).
Example of opinion (containing your judgement of the person): “You are not respectful of our meeting schedule!”
Example of fact: “You were late to our daily stand-up three times this week.”
When expressing facts, we want to be specific and avoid generalization (for the same reasons as stated above). Example of a generalization would be: “You’re always late!”.
In this part, you might want to let the receiver know what kind of emotions that situation brought up in you. Why? Because it will bring the human aspect to the discussion and it will help the other person realize what impact their behaviour had on you. Also - in certain situations - it will allow them to understand why you reacted the way you did.
Examples of expressing your emotions: “That made me frustrated”, “I became angry as a result”, “I was sad after that happened”
Here, we also want to restrain from our opinions of the other person’s motives. It is easy to disguise our judgements as expression of emotions - e.g. “I felt like you wanted to disrespect me” or “I felt like you ignored my needs”. A good rule of thumb is to avoid “you”-communicates here and stick purely to “I”-communicates.
Here we want to inform the other person about what the possible consequences might be in case the situation repeats itself in future. Because people are much more inclined to introduce changes if they understand potential consequences of not doing so - this can boost the chances of them changing their behaviour if similar thing should occur.
E.g., “If you keep being late it might contribute to us missing our deadline” or “If you keep shouting at meetings, I will be forced to report that to your supervisor” or “If you keep doing that, it will eventually alienate me from the team”.
Ok, so we explained which situation (fact) we refer to, we mentioned which emotions it brought up in us, and what kind of consequences it would have in case it repeats itself. If we have specific expectations towards the other person - this is the time to express them. Now - we cannot force the other person to fulfil our expectations, so we should not express them as a demand - it is better to express them as a request.
It is possible that we will not have any specific expectations. Maybe, for example, we are just giving that feedback to make the other person realize what result their actions have on the work environment. In such case - we might just say something like: “I just wanted you to know that, so you can take that into consideration in future”.
Communication is a tricky business. We all have our own filters that distort messages passed between us. Even when following a proven method like FUKO, we might still fail to reach our goal when giving feedback. If that happens to you or you want to develop your feedback skills further, you might want to study the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) method. Among others, it helps us understand how to talk about facts, emotions and needs better, by carefully choosing our words and reactions to avoid hidden judgements or demands, thus greatly improving the chances that our request will be heard without distortion.
Eg. The below example will present FUKO feedback that might be formulated - first without the use of Nonviolent Communication, and second - using the NVC.
During yesterday’s meeting you demanded that I address the issue by calling the client. That made me feel micromanaged. I’d expect that in the future you will not micromanage me.
Can you see the parts that potentially hide our judgement? Those parts might bring up defensive attitude from the other person, as in their mind they were not micromanaging us at all, but were just trying to help.
Second version (NVC):
During yesterday’s meeting you said that I might want to address the issue by calling the client. That made me feel frustrated. I need to know I am trusted to make my own decisions regarding my matters. It might help if in future you expressed your advice after I have presented my own idea first.
Notice how in this version we use a more objective word “said” to express the facts. We also use the word “frustrated” to describe our emotions. That word reflects only on our mood and not the other person’s actions, as opposed to a more loaded: “micromanaged”, which might be perceived as hidden judgement (“you micromanaged me”).
Give feedback promptly - the best time is next day
Sleep it over to cool down - I usually give myself a day to cool down, so that I am able to look at the situation more objectively and not in the heat of emotions
Keep the right proportions - if we often give improving feedback to a person and rarely the motivational one - the person will be prone to thinking that we are mostly unsatisfied with their conduct, where very often the opposite is the case. A good rule of thumb is to give them twice as much of the motivational feedback than of the improving one, if you are overall satisfied with your cooperation with someone. Why twice as much? Well, because most people tend to remember the critical feedback more, so in their mind the proportions will usually be distorted.
Write it down - if the feedback is particularly difficult or emotional for you, it is a good idea to write it down and have the notes with you when giving the feedback. You can even tell the other person that you wrote it down and will be using notes while giving it - there is nothing wrong about that.
Say it rather than send it - I would discourage you from sending a written feedback to someone though. Written word is inherently imperfect as it often fails to convey tone and other nuances. It is much better to give feedback face to face, even if you read it from a paper.
I believe that to keep any relationship healthy - open, free-flowing communication is the key. When we stop speaking, we bottle up emotions, and that most often has negative consequences for our relationship down the road. Regular feedback allows us to express the emotions as they come up and prevent us from pondering on them over and over again until they grow into resentment or other disruptive feeling. In my professional (and personal) relationships, I strive at always giving feedback when there is a situation causing significant distress. It is often difficult - usually it seems more convenient to pass it over and carry on, but experience taught me that most of the time, I will have to deal with the consequences eventually. And more often than not - those consequences are much more unpleasant than the dreaded talk would be. In fact - most of the time - that talk is not unpleasant at all! Very often, I dread the talk and project various unpleasant scenarios regarding how the other person will react but am pleasantly surprised in the end! That is the beauty of the method. If done correctly, most of the time, the other person gets you, thanks you and is eager to make amends if necessary! And the good news is - the more you do it, the easier it gets!