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How to deal with feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is crucial in any working environment. It allows you to grow and improve your performance. However, giving and receiving feedback can be difficult. Is there a proper way to handle feedback?
Sebastiaan Schillebeeckx

Co-Founder & Head of Design, PandaPanda

Feedback is objective

When you’re giving feedback:

Learning how to give feedback is a key component in your corporate (and even private) communication.

You can debate colors and tastes forever without ever reaching a conclusion. Most of the time (unless you’re dealing with well thought-out branding), subjective things such as color don’t really matter.

That’s why you should learn to say more than “I (don’t) like it”. Build your case with objective statistics, research and past experience. It will help the person receiving feedback understand what you’re trying to say.

When you’re receiving feedback:

Try to channel your inner 3-year old. That means telling yourself “I don’t know everything yet, so it’s important to listen to others”. It also means asking a lot of “why”.

“Why do you think what I tried in this design doesn’t work?”

“Why do you think our target audience will not understand this interface?”

“Can you explain why you think that would be a better solution?”

When asking these questions, you allow the other person to further explain what they mean. This makes room for an open conversation in which both the feedback-giver and receiver can dig deep into an objective analysis of their work.

Everyone should be on the same wavelength

Whether you’re giving or receiving feedback, make sure that everyone is aware of all the details.

What problem are you trying to solve? Who’s the target audience? Which other goals are you trying to achieve?

With all noses pointing in the same direction, you avoid discussing topics that aren’t necessarily important to the work currently at hand.

Data is key

Use best practices, user interview, statistics, competitor analysis, past examples or analytics. This helps build your objective arguments.

This can (and should) be applied in all branches, but especially in UX. You can discuss colors and tastes for hours, but UX isn’t UI. It’s about using the right information and using it to optimize the user’s experience.

From our own experience, we know that sometimes trying to convince others can be a difficult task. It’s important to be patient and respectful. At the end of the day, everyone is trying to achieve the best possible results.

By using your objective data correctly, you’ll eventually start to win people over. Objectivity beats subjectivity in most branches every day of the week.

Be considerate

Even though you’re the expert, it’s important to be considerate of and respectful towards others.

If you’re walking into every meeting room thinking you’re THE (wo)man, you will tire out your colleagues and clients.

Be open to what others have to say. Listen actively, take their valuable information into consideration and trust that they will do the same with you (more on that later in this blog).

We found out that it also helps to quickly demonstrate a suggestion someone might make. You can easily do this by drawing something up on paper or a whiteboard. This practical implementation of a theoretical piece of feedback could demonstrate immediately why something can or cannot work.

Use time-saving methods

Are you starting on a new project? Then remember these two words: kickoff meeting.

During a kickoff meeting you can soak in as much information as you need. Ask questions, record what’s being said and re-listen to this recording afterwards to get a better understanding of what needs to be done.

Then, structure all the information you’ve gathered, combine it with your research and experience and use this cocktail of knowledge to formulate a plan of action. You can then send this plan back to the client.

Both you and your client will quickly see whether or not you’re on the same page. On the clients’ side, they only need to give feedback on your plan of action. You haven’t really started working on the project yet, so you’re saving a lot of time. What would happen if you’d already started and found out two weeks later that you and your client aren’t actually on the same page?

This structured approach can save you and your client a lot of time and future headaches.

Trust is very important

No trust, no love.

You can tell your clients that you trust them and their expertise. They’re the ones who have probably been working in a particular branch for a very long time. Their knowledge and experience should not be taken lightly.

On the other hand, tell your clients they can also trust you and your experience in your branch. In our case, that’s design and development. Clients come to us because they have little to no knowledge of these branches.

If we apply the two-way-trust-path to our studio and our clients, we basically tell our clients that we trust them to be the expert in their branch and we’re experts in ours. Our digital translation of their knowledge allows both of us to use our strengths and fulfill our jobs to the fullest of our abilities.

If you’re struggling establishing trust, take your time to talk to your clients. Show them how you solved problems similar to theirs in the past. Talk about their problems and why they’ve come to you. Ask questions and give objective answers to theirs. This will set you both on the path to a trustworthy relationship.

Be critical of your own work

Don't be satisfied too quickly. Looking objectively at what you've created and making the right changes can reduce the number of changes you have to make later.

When you ask for feedback, it sometimes happens that you get this answer: "it's good". You might interpret this as positive feedback from a satisfied customer or colleague. But it actually isn't. Because you are critical of your own work, it is best to ask two additional questions when you get the answer above.

  • Why do you think it is good?

  • Is there really nothing that can be improved?

Sometimes people are afraid to give feedback. By showing that you are willing to listen, you can get them to give feedback that they would not have given if you had not explicitly asked for it. Nothing in this world is perfect, so don't settle for "It's okay, there's no feedback".

Use multiple sources of feedback

Obviously it’s never wrong to ask someone more experienced than yourself for some feedback. But you can also receive surprisingly useful feedback from someone you wouldn’t think of in the first place.

For example: when we’re working on a project in a particular branch and we know someone (even friends or family) that works in that branch, we go and ask them for feedback on our work.

They might not have any knowledge about UX, but they know the ins and outs of their branch and can provide very insightful information.

Learn from your colleagues

PandaPanda is a relatively small studio. We have our own corporate identity and culture, but we are not stuck in old and inefficient processes. That means that everyone still has their own way of doing things, which is great because we get to learn from each other. We like to give each other feedback and try to do more than saying “I (don’t) like this solution”.

Remember: it’s never personal

Feedback is about your work, not about you as an individual. As a designer, it’s a little complicated at times because you made the design. It’s like your little baby and you don’t want it to be criticized.

But you have to learn to let go. At the start, it’s difficult for many. But you have to understand that the goal of feedback is to help you grow.

When giving feedback, it’s important to talk about the actual work, not the person behind the work. This will make it clear you’re not assaulting anyone directly. Instead of saying “I don’t like the picture you chose here, that’s a bad choice”, say “I think this image doesn’t fit well with our target audience. Can we look at alternatives?”.

All stakeholders matter

In our branch, developers are a big part of what we do. So we ask them for feedback as well. We don’t want to design an entire system just to find out that it’s not doable in development.

So take all stakeholders into consideration when asking for feedback. It will save you a lot of time and will ultimately guide you into creating the best possible and achievable solution.

In Conclusion

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill. And just like all skills, it can be developed over time.

To summarize what we’ve discussed:

  • Feedback is objective

  • Everyone should be on the same wavelength

  • Data is key

  • Be considerate

  • Use time-saving methods

  • Trust is very important

  • Be critical of your own work

  • Use multiple sources of feedback

  • Learn from your colleagues

  • Remember that it’s never personal

  • All stakeholders matter

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