Unlock The Power of Feedback to Drive Success in Product Design

Raluca Angelescu
October 31, 2022
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Humans have been coming up with ways to give constructive criticism for centuries, but we’re still pretty terrible at it. We have tons of TED talks and Youtube videos talking about how feedback could
People believe constructive criticism is essential to their career development, but they only sometimes efficiently handle feedback. I don’t always do it, but I’m trying to be aware of that and take the necessary steps to improve.

Most people (including Designers) can improve how they receive feedback, so mastering these skills and being an advocate of a healthy feedback culture can help you stand out. The better you receive feedback, the stronger you become and build a more resilient network. You’ll have more meaningful dialogues, make people around you feel more heard, and reduce the anxiety associated with feedback.

The need for feedback

If you’ve ever run a marathon and were serious about improving your pace, speed, and overall health, you know how important a watch or a tracking app is.

Never knowing how fast you’re running, whether your speed was constant or how you feel that day, other than the feeling after or the satisfaction that you’ve done it. You’d have no way of knowing where you are and what you can do to achieve your goal more efficiently (in less time, with better use of resources).

When it comes to Design feedback or overall growth, you can still do your job, but you’ll be running in the dark, with no signage and no idea what to do in case your run leaves you stranded on an unknown path, out of breath. You benefit from receiving feedback in the simplest way possible. You can go for the high-end model, use your smartphone, or run with a more experienced friend who could guide you; it’s up to you.

Turn feedback into actionable insights

Nowadays, we are living with a paradox. We strive for feedback and understand its role in our growth, so much so that we tend to transform it into a cliche dance. We ask somebody for feedback even if we are not ready to hear it; we don’t consider it to a full extent and usually expect general or evasive answers.

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review, “Stop Asking for Feedback,” talks about how feedback started to have little impact on our performance and tends to become superficial due to the lack of actionable insights people get from it. That’s because feedback usually reflects on past behavior, arguing that the secret lies in asking for advice instead. Advice gives people an action point if they are searching for guidance and can make them more accountable.

If we were to assign responsibility, both parties involved in the feedback exchange could do something about it. But let’s focus on what we can do as the recipient. You can leverage follow-up questions to transform input into action points. For example, if someone mentions that the presentation you just delivered could be better, you could follow up by asking additional questions such as: “What could I do better next time?”, “What should I incorporate in my future presentation to improve it?”. Being specific and having a genuine interest in improving things will ensure an improved feedback process and more energy focused on improving rather than dwelling on it.

Turn defensiveness into curiosity

Far too often, we fail to digest negative feedback because we focus more on protecting ourselves and our ego against it. We’d rather be right than learn; we would rather overthink than put it into perspective. We would rather say to ourselves: “This person doesn’t know what they are talking about.” and continue with the status quo.

Sometimes, improvement feedback can sound general and harsh, and transforming it into digestible action points and suggestions can be challenging. There is a chance if we manage to go past this wall of being defensive and putting in the effort to clarify.

Responding to feedback with: “What I heard you say was…” is an efficient way to achieve clarity and alignment in the conversation.

Create psychological safety (so people don’t regret being honest)

I once failed to receive improvement feedback. I made a lot of efforts that weren’t visible then, and when I received feedback, I instantly became defensive. I would close myself up, sit silently for the rest of the meeting, let everyone else talk, and then lick my wounds in a corner.

Later on, when the person offering the feedback noticed something was up, we managed to discuss it. It turns out it wasn’t even negative feedback; it was a hypothetical, general discussion that I took wrong because I was having a bad day. Even after we clarified, he said at the end: “Now I fear I need to wear gloves when talking to you.” I may miss many improvement opportunities because I failed to turn that discussion into something actionable. It was a good reminder for all of us that when we’re on the hot seat, we must stay open and communicative.

When you’re on the receiving end of the feedback, you want to thank the person for giving you feedback. Otherwise, if we approach this with fear and retaliation, they might not repeat the experience, which is detrimental for all parties. You can create a positive experience using body language, facial expressions, but most importantly, self-awareness and communication.

Negative feedback is not the only one that is improperly received

We’ve talked about negative feedback, but we often neglect positive one. We are happy for a moment, we get a confidence boost, but then we continue with our day. If we are lucky, we often hear words like: “You did great!” or “That went well!”.We end the conversation there, feeling satisfied for the rest of the day. Sometimes, if the context allows, continue the conversation. You could prob and ask what exactly it is that you’ve done well.

A lack of specificity can leave less room for interpretation or creates a false premise for moving forward. We could leave a presentation thinking we have excellent delivery skills when in reality, people were fascinated by the visuals or the facts presented, or vice-versa. No need to become paranoid or the devil’s advocate here, but it’s helpful to follow up regularly, even if the feedback is positive. It will help you understand where you shine, how to leverage this more, how to raise the bar on that and specialize, or how to help others struggling with it.

Are you at the giving end of the feedback?

The good news is that all we discussed so far can be applied when giving feedback, not only receiving it.

The only thing to remember is that the longer you wait to give improvement feedback, the more you start getting bitter about a person.

You make up a story; you justify things in a way that it’s not true. All you can do is say:” I see this, and it’s bothering me; I would like to know more.” Keep an open mind, understand the reasons and see if you can help.

Respectful and intentional feedback is free, but it can significantly affect the culture of the team and your career. If you commit to improving this underrated skill, you’ll create a stronger network and get all the necessary guidance and information you need to grow.

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