Jan 05 2017

Negative feedback management

Category: English posts,TechnicalIuliana @ 23:03
In the software development world we have a lot of processes, standards and ways to measure quality. When it comes to code quality the  standard measurement is the WTF/minute, depicted in the image on the left. The result of such measurement is usually a feedback given to you by a superior. If the feedback is positive, you will receive a pat on the back, the responsibility of teaching your mastery to others and if you are lucky, a bonus or a raise. Giving and receiving positive feedback is a easy, but life is not only milk and honey and sometimes negative feedback has to be given and received. And it can be quite uncomfortable for both parties involved. But fear not, I took a little of my precious time to write a post about it.  Because even if you are a genius, you are human and you are most probably doing at least one thing wrong. And negative feedback is not only given for the quality of your work, but for your overall behaviour during working hours as well.
This being said, let’s begin. There are three ways to give negative feedback:

  1. officially, via a review that will affect your future career path
  2. privately in a professional/unprofessional manner
  3. publicly in a professional/unprofessional manner

Officially, negative feedback is given to you in the best way possible, wrapped up as an “ability you need to improve” (or more). The fact that you are given negative feedback, means that you actually matter to the company and somebody above you in the company hierarchy believes you can improve. The first time when you receive negative feedback might be a drama, because if you are passionate about your job you cannot stop yourself from taking it personally and feel like a failure. The emotion is similar to what you feel when you let down someone you love, only in this case this someone is you. Just allow yourself to breath, to think about it and then start working on improving the mentioned point. And the most important, ask guidance in how to do this from the one that gave you the negative feedback.

Negative feedback given privately, is a warning sign. It is one of the most embarrassing ways to receive a negative feedback and it usually means you screwed up badly, but somebody wants to understand what happened and try to help you make things better. When given such feedback, try to pay attention to what it is being said to you, hold your ground and emotions in check and try not point the finger to somebody else, not without accepting your own fault in the matter. Negative feedback given privately is usually the result of some behavioural issues, usually harassment of any kind. Depending on how badly you screwed up and depending on how short tempered your manager is, the negative feedback can be delivered professionally or unprofessionally. If the negative feedback is provided unprofessionally, the same as said before applies, there must be at least one person in that room to hold their shit together, it is better that is you. Because even if the discussion is private, the outcome will be in an official review. So, obviously it is better to say in your review that you admitted your part of the guilt, you are sorry about it and will work on improving in the future. And you can also report the short tempered manager to his manager.

Negative feedback given publicly, is clearly inappropriate. It is a warning sign for the provider of the feedback and for the receiver as well. It means there is a clash of egos there, maybe some issues that were never resolved or reported. Whether provided professionally or unprofessionally, this is one of the most uncomfortable things that can happen in a company. It reveals that the two persons involved both as problem employees. Maybe they either do not know or do not care about the internal hierarchy, or they do not trust the matter can be solved by official channels. If you are being scolded publicly, just remember school. Even if you have never been scolded by a teacher, you have witnessed it and you probably remember, that answering and defending yourself in the heat of the moment, did not do much. The same advice as in the previous case applies: hold your ground, keep your emotions in check and just take it. Just let it pass. Then think, raise the issue to the next person higher on the hierarchy and show yourself open to make things work.

No matter how good at your job you are, the fact is that we are all humans. We all make mistakes and we all have our moments when our mind plays tricks with us. When you work with the same people for a long time, conflicts are unavoidable. But you must remember why you are there for: you are there to excel at your job, you are there to teach others what you know, work with your team and make work more efficient for everybody so in the end the company will flourish and so will you. Unless the negative feedback is a backlash caused by personal issues with the person providing it, the negative feedback should always be considered an opportunity to improve yourself and others too. If the matter is personal, well… in this case things get complicated, unless you find a way to put it aside and separate personal from professional issues. Not all persons have the ability to separate professional from personal issues, but you can get better at this by talking to a counselor, for example.

I’ve written the above from my professional experience. I remember my first negative feedback and I remember my last. There is one recurring recommendation managers keep giving me: to be less blunt. But from overall personal experience I know that some people do not react unless they are hit with the naked truth. The best I can do is to try to know my colleagues as best as I can, thus I can modify my behaviour depending on them. I guess, we all just have to be understanding, considerate and flexible after all.

Stay safe, stay happy!

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