Tips for managing technical people – Rules for accepting feedback


18 September 2015, by

The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.

Galvanizing the geeksI’m a great fan of continuous improvement, and feedback is the lifeblood of continuous improvement. Whenever you undertake something, you should be thinking carefully about what could have been done better; this will provide you with some great improvements without any outside help.  But there will be a whole class of things that you could be doing better that you won’t be able to spot.  In order to become the best manager that you can be you need to find out this information, and act on it.

To get to the position that you’re in now, you will have already had to learn how to act on feedback.  At the bottom of an organisation, feedback is usually relatively easy to come by: if you do something wrong, you’ll find out about it; if you upset your boss, they’ll tell you. You’ll also be keen to ask for feedback, and your manager will be happy to give you it.

Things change a little when you are the one in charge. It’s no longer obvious to others that you want people to feedback to you frequently and honestly, even if you state as much in departmental presentations. It can also be easy when you are rushed and busy to respond to feedback curtly or peremptorily, even if you do find it useful and later go on to act on it. Or you may have an emotional reaction to feedback, especially if you do feel deep-down that you have done something badly. Add that to the fact that giving useful, honest feedback is actually really hard, and you might find that people fear giving you honest feedback in case they upset you.

I have previously blogged the following rules for accepting feedback.

  1. Whatever the feedback is, immediately say ‘thank you for the feedback’. This shows them that you appreciate their taking the time to help you, and will mean you get more feedback in the future.
  2. Before disagreeing (or agreeing!) with the feedback, take 15 minutes, or however long you need, to absorb the information… or calm down.
  3. Only then think about whether you agree with the feedback or not, and what you plan to do about it.
  4. Feed back to the feedback giver on how useful their feedback was! Remember, this is something that they probably didn’t find easy, so take the time to let them know how they did and provide any constructive comments you have to help them get better.

It’s not necessarily the case that all feedback you receive will be equally useful – if you let people know which bits were most helpful and which were less so, it will help them to practise continuous improvement on their feedback giving.

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One Response to “Tips for managing technical people – Rules for accepting feedback”

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