I've long said feedback is more about the person giving it than the person getting it. At least that's what I need to believe to explain why so much of the commentary we get on our writing is unactionable. The things that makes this so hard is that bad feedback is preventable.
Giving feedback: Examples
Example 1: Random comments for the sake of giving comments.
One of my friends encountered this situation recently*: The manager said the taglines needed to "reflect the value propositions more". Since my client felt they did, he asked for a clarification. (This was what our software engineer friends call a 'known issue' and we'd done some preparation.) He asked the manager what they meant exactly and asked for examples.
There was a pause. Then a sigh.
Then more silence.
Finally the response: "I don't know exactly."
My client tried to help. "Do you want me to use more of the same wording?"
"Not really. Your language is more audience focused."
"OK. Closer to the word count of the originals?"
"No. That doesn't matter."
"Do you remember what you were feeling when you wrote that note?"
Hmmmm. Maybe they were feeling uncertain about the value props they'd provided? Maybe they're just nervous about the project? We don't know -- and they didn't either.
Your takeaway: Make sure you know why you're giving a note and be able to give an example or explanation if the writer needs one. We're really smart, but we can't read your mind. And to be fair to reviewers, writers, stop asking people to "let me know what you think". This, as years of evidence have shown us all, is a recipe for disaster. When people don't know what *we* need, they give us what they want to -- which is often corrections (helpful), rewrites (often not helpful) or completely useless comments that serve neither the audience nor you as the writer.
Example 2: Not addressing conflicts or prioritizing reviewers.
While I'm carping on feedback, let me get this off my chest, too. If you're a content manager sending documents out for multiple people to review, *please* in the name of all that's holy don't just hand it all back over to the writer without even looking at what the reviewers said and did.
- Reviewers often ask questions that the writer can't answer. Your takeaway: Your job as the manager is to get that sorted out before giving to the scribe, or at least ask if it's possible to proceed without the answers for now.
- Readers often make changes or suggestions that contradict something another person suggested or changed. Your takeaway: Your job as the manager is to resolve those conflicts in advance of sending back to the writer or tell the writer whose comments take precedence over everyone else's. Yes, if there's a ton of reviewers (god help you), list them in rank order. I'm serious.
- Commenters often ask for things that you, as the manager, don't even agree with. Your takeaway: Your job as the manager is to tell the writer if there's any comment they can disregard, or better yet, just delete it yourself.
Why giving good feedback is important
Giving feedback to employees or colleagues is more than an operational issue. Bad feedback is a contributing factor to increased turnover and poor retention. When enough bad feedback has been passed along to the content creators, their trust and confidence in you erodes. Their frustration levels rise. Their feelings of being unappreciated grow. And these are big motivators for leaving a job. Given that we're in the Great Resignation, this isn't the time you want to be handing talented people a reason to see themselves out.
Read more about the psychological impact of poor feedback and get tips for how to give great feedback.
* I'm not airing someone else's laundry. This is a fictionalized recount of an actual event.