Getting feedback for real improvement

After a couple of years working in engineering, I’ve noticed a constant when it comes to feedback. No one wants to say what you’re doing wrong. This is generally because negative feedback might come across harsh and most people want to be liked and avoid conflict. So what do you?

Photographer: Steve Johnson

I’ve only ever had one or two managers who gave real feedback and helped in my growth. The rest were shallow and in reviews gave the canned “You’re doing a great job!” or “ You’re a great coder!” comments. We know this kind of feedback leads to no growth in either party.

Let’s start cutting through the bullshit and start giving real feedback. This isn’t the same as being mean or harsh with other people, this means caring about the other and telling the truth. Because you want to see the other person grow and do better.

Allow me to expand on this with an example. Kim is a good engineer who has amazing technical knowledge but sucks at communication. Whenever there’s a meeting, Kim cannot communicate her ideas well enough. Regardless of that, in every 1-on-1, Sam (her manager) gives her the classic: “You’re an amazing coder, keep it up!” line.

Look, Sam, I understand you; you want to keep your engineer happy. She does the job and you’re afraid that she might leave if you give her honest feedback. But Kim is smart, and if she gets always the same old “You are amazing buddy!”, she’ll eventually realize you’re being disingenuous, and after some time she might feel that she’s not progressing enough and would look for some other place where she can grow.

If you often get the same feedback as Kim, either find a system for improving by yourself or change to a company that has these systems in place. If you’re in Sam’s position, start giving some real feedback to help Kim improve.

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