How to Give Feedback and Why I’ve Been Doing It All Wrong

Almost every day, I’m asked to give some sort of feedback. It’s just a necessary part of running a company and managing a team. But requests for feedback more often come to me from a founder. Unfortunately, it’s usually from a founder that GAN Ventures decided wasn’t the right fit for us to invest in, for any number of potential reasons.

For a while now, though, I’ve felt like I haven’t been very good at giving good feedback—until recently. So I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning and how it affects anyone in the business of giving feedback to others.

Two Quick Methods:

The 360 Degree Method for Feedback
Every six months, I ask my team to do a 360-degree review on one another and, of course, I’m included in the exercise. The team is asked a bunch of questions about my performance, and I get to hear where I’m doing well and areas I might need to improve.

There are specific questions we ask each person on the team to fill out about every other person on the team in the form of a ranking (1-10) and then they’re free to give written commentary to explain their reasoning on every question.

But, if I’m being truly honest about this, there’s one reason I personally do 360-degree reviews: I want to know where I’m deficient. I’m curious to know any areas where I want and need to improve. And my expectation is that others on the team are learning the areas where they need to grow, as well. Another way of describing the 360-degree method for feedback: It’s a way to determine and work through our weaker spots.

The Brandi Method for Feedback
This is obviously a thing I just made up. I’m calling it “The Brandi Method” because it’s exactly how I’ve noticed that Brandi, our Brand Director, gives feedback. Here’s an example—

Lately, I’ve been running about 3-5 minutes late to our meetings. It’s nothing crazy, and there is a lot going on so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Needless to say, I haven’t been beating myself up about being 3-5 minutes late.

But Brandi made a comment the other day that was interesting. She said, “I have an agenda for every meeting, whether you realize it or not. Missing even 3-5 minutes throws that agenda off and we have too many important things to work through in every portion of it, so something inevitably ends up not getting the attention it truly needs.” In other words, those 3-5 minutes actually matter.

What I’ve Been Learning

On the surface, both methods seem useful and helpful. The 360-degree method allows us to see where we need to improve in the areas we’re not as strong as we could be. And, Brandi’s method seems like a great way to bring up issues that come up throughout the day. But, in reality, when I think back on which method has had the most impact on me as a person and leader, it’s Brandi’s approach.

Here’s why I think that’s the case: There’s nuance and actual science going on behind Brandi’s method of giving feedback, and why it’s better in a lot of cases.

I learned about most of this from this recent Harvard Business Review article. What it helped me to see is what’s going on behind both feedback methods and a couple of reasons why feedback delivered the way Brandi delivers it can have a much more lasting impact than a 360-degree review.

Brandi is pointing me toward excellence.
If you notice, Brandi isn’t bringing up an area where I’m doing poorly. Nothing in her statement is judging me for being a bad person or bad at my job. In fact, she doesn’t even use accusatory statements like “you” or how I’m not doing something well. Rather, look at what she does. She points me toward being excellent and paints a picture of what that looks like. She said that if I’m on time, our meetings will be better. We’ll get more done. We’ll actually accomplish what we set out to do in any particular meeting.

She doesn’t bring up something like, “Pat, I feel like you really struggle with being on time. This isn’t good.” She very much could have gone down that path. But, she doesn’t. She doesn’t make any of her feedback about me personally. She brings up a behavior and tells me exactly why that behavior is hurting our meeting—and, more importantly, how that behavior might have larger impacts for the team.

Brandi made it personal—for her.
I think this is the most helpful part of all of her feedback. She shares how she is impacted. She can’t have a productive meeting. My being late means our meeting isn’t as productive as it needs to be and it makes her role harder to excel in. Three-to-five minutes can often be the difference between her feeling like she can get the information she needs to support the team well, too. So, not only is my being consistently tardy throwing this one meeting off, but it trickles down to the rest of the team and their needs, too.

When I hear this, I feel so bad. Because I realize that something in my behavior is having a negative impact on a colleague, and I really, really don’t want that.

But she’s done a good job not attacking me. She has just shared how much my behavior has impacted her work. And this feels freeing for everyone. She isn’t placing any judgment on me as a person. She’s just sharing that her job is being impacted because I’m showing up in a certain way.

What I’m Doing From Here

As I go from here, I’m going to be doing a few things differently based on what I’m seeing Brandi model and what I’m reading about giving good feedback.

First of all, we’re going to continue doing 360-degree reviews, but I want to do them differently. They’re going to be much more about how a person’s behavior impacts others on the team, positively and negatively, rather than making the 360-degree review a whole exercise in defining what a person is really good or bad at in their jobs. We all know, and the HBR article affirms, that everyone has a few places where we struggle more than others—simply pointing them out just isn’t that productive.

I’m going to be sharing much more about how people’s behavior is impacting me or my job. I’m going to talk about my experience when something goes wrong, rather than stating someone’s flaws. When I feel like someone has really dropped a ball, I’m really trying to avoid assigning any sort of judgment and just say that “When this happens, it really affects me in ‘X’ way.”

And finally, I’m trying to avoid making statements, especially to companies who ask for feedback after pitching us for money. Declarative statements sound like I’m stating the absolute truth, rather than my own experience of a situation. What I’m working on saying instead is that “For GAN Ventures, this isn’t a fit and here’s why it isn’t a fit for us.” That way, I’m making it personal to us, but not personal about a founder or their company. (Meaning, the tone is “This is my experience” rather than “This is who you are, what your company is, and what your company’s value in the world are.“) Because, while I may not consider something a great fit for our investment, someone else may think that it’s the most amazing deal of the year.