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  • Feedback Etiquette And Empowering Your Team

    [10.03.19]
    - Mark Webster

  • Purposefully Communicate.

    We as humans communicate seemingly incessantly. The words we speak, our tone of voice, even what we don't say can often say so much.

    Ultimately all this communication is communicating something.

    One way to improve the feedback process is to be aware of our unintentional communication and channel those towards a single, cohesive message.

    • Choose Our Words. 

      Our word choices can set the tone for the entire feedback process. For example, sending invites to for an ‘Art Critique' meeting can set recipients on the defensive. Encouraging Creatives to come prepared to passionately defend their choices. Intentionally using more neutral terms, such as ‘Design Sync' can lessen this affect.

      Selectively using pronouns like ‘you', ‘we' and ‘they' can allow us to focus praise and dissipate negatives. As a general guideline if it's something good, use ‘you', such as ‘you did a great job here'. If it's an opportunity to improve use ‘we', as in ‘we could explore this'. If you need an antagonist use ‘they'. Overall, our choices should express to a Creative that they supported and valued.

      Finally, as any decent marriage counselor will tell you, avoid broad terms such as ‘always' and ‘never'. Even if such terms feel accurate, they rarely improve a situation. Often shutting off one side of the conversation, rather than fostering understanding.

    • Choose our Communication Cues. 

      In my case, I discovered communication cues during my first stint as a Level Design Lead. The project was in a tight spot, and I soon realized there was a large vein above my right eyebrow that would visibly pulse anytime someone would even think of increasing scope.

      While it became a running gag that ‘The Vein' turned the project around, this not-so-subtle communication cue limited my ability to communicate feedback in a useful manner, betraying my otherwise calm demeanor.

      Other cues can include eye rolls, head shakes, frowns, distracted glances and so on. Becoming aware of our tendencies can allow us to stop them before they communicate more than we want in a particular moment.

      As mastering these communication cues can take time, it might be useful to find ways to limit their impact. For example, choosing a seat that looks away from high traffic areas, or in the case of an attention seeking vein like my own, try wearing a hat.

    • Choose our Emotional State.

      Emotions can inspire us to make choices in a moment that will impact a lifetime... getting married, making a baby, or raising our voice at an intern.

      If for example, we just come out of a particularly tense meeting with corporate, now is not the time to roll up on a Creative to review their latest efforts.

      Feedback is so valuable that it is worth delaying to ensure we're in the proper frame of mind to give it effectively.

      If it absolutely can't wait, we need to be aware of our current emotional state. This will help us to not inadvertently transfer these emotions into the next situation, negatively impacting the feedback process.

    What if it all goes wrong?

    In a perfect world, feedback would always leave recipients feeling excited to improve their work, reaffirmed as the best person for this task, and fully supported.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't always go so smoothly.

    In fact, most of these techniques I learned by doing the exact opposite so often it felt normal. That is until the process would grind to a screeching halt. Those moments of breakdown and subsequent rebuilding taught me much of what it takes to foster a creative community.

    The overall goal here is to intentionally work towards improving the experience and results of everyone involved.

    In the meantime, I found proactively encouraging Creatives, while owning my mistakes would help to insulate the team from the potential negative effects as I learned how to deliver more empowering feedback.

    Next Steps...

    These techniques are based on my own experience; use what works, toss what doesn't, and share your own learnings in the comments below.

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