As an Agile Coach, a large component of what you do is to provide feedback and advice in some way shape or form. And, in order to stay in sync with those that you coach, you are of course open to feedback and advice on your coaching. Feedback and advice are very similar. In both cases you are providing information which you believe the recipient is unaware of. This brings up one of the first issues with providing feedback and advice; while you may think that the other person is unware of the information you wish to provide, they may actually be very aware of it. Here are a few reasons why people ignore the information that others provide to them:
- The information seems wrong or doesn’t make sense to them
- They haven’t figured out how to act on the information
- They are aware that some people feel they should do something differently but they aren’t interested in doing it
- They don’t care enough about the issue to make a change
In the case of feedback, the recipient is often unaware of the impact they are having on others. In the case of advice, the missing information may be given as part of feedback or it may be expressly requested by the recipient. Feedback usually starts with an observation, advice may not. With feedback, there may or may not be suggested next steps included. In the case of advice, suggested next steps are the advice.
Here’s a simple example. One day, I made a mistake in buttoning up my shirt and I hadn’t looked in the mirror before heading to work. I got a couple of funny looks from co-workers before one kind soul let me know that my shirt needed some adjustment and suggested that I look in a mirror. In this case, pointing out that there was an issue was all that was needed. Looking in the mirror I could see quite plainly that I had made a mistake buttoning my shirt.
Let’s map this out:
Knowledge gap: I didn’t know my shirt was mis-buttoned
Observation: “your shirt is not buttoned properly”
Impact: looking unprofessional
Potential next steps: re-button the shirt properly
In the case of advice, it may be that a person knows that they are missing some information and are looking for ideas and options for next steps. Here’s an example involving advice. A manager approaches the Agile Coach for a team and says “I thought the whole idea of Agile was that the team would make more decisions on their own, but they still ask my opinion on decisions that I think they should make on their own. Do you have any advice?”
Let’s assume that the coach takes the manager through a whole coaching conversation and the need for advice remains and that it maps out like this:
Knowledge gap: the manager can’t see that they continue to countermand many of the decisions that the team tries to make on its own
Observation: “Last week the team decided to release, but you told them you didn’t think the customer wanted a new release, so they didn’t release.”
Impact: “Right after that happened, as they were about to make another decision, one team member said they should ask you what you thought before making the decision.”
Potential next steps: “One option to consider is to let them make more decisions, even if it isn’t what you would do, unless you think a decision would create a major problem.”
When making an observation as part of giving feedback or advice, remember to make the observation in a neutral way.
Here are some tips for maximizing the chance of feedback being well received.
- Opt-in – ask for permission or respond to a request
- Timely – provide feedback and/or advice in as timely a fashion as circumstances permit
- Safe – in an appropriate environment with a chance for interaction – not a “drive-by”
- Credible – limit yourself to areas where the receiver sees you as credible
- Good will – make sure the feedback and/or advice is sincere and intended for the recipient’s benefit
- Conversational – rather than focusing on a piece of feedback, consider starting a conversation on the topic in general. It may turn out that the recipient is already aware of the topic and is looking for ideas.
All feedback can be useful feedback. Even if an observation feels wrong, hurtful, or ill-intentioned, there may be information in the feedback that you can use. Just because information was delivered poorly doesn’t mean it is useless.
The first step in getting value out of feedback is to just receive it. You don’t have to agree with it to acknowledge it. For instance, rather than saying “that doesn’t make any sense to me” you could try saying something like “I hear what you are saying.” If you feel your emotions rising, consider saying something like “that’s a lot for me to absorb. Let me think about it and I may follow up with you.” You don’t have to respond right away.
You can use most of the ideas about giving feedback in reverse. If someone says something that feels like a judgement, you can ask for a specific example.
Even if the feedback doesn’t make any sense, there may be something for you to learn. Look for patterns in what multiple people say to you over time. See if you can find somebody you trust to help you make sense of the feedback you are receiving.