Tuesday, February 6

Feedback given badly

Optimally feedback should be
    • given frequently,
    • should be balanced between affirmative feedback and adjusting feedback,
    • and feedback should be about specific behaviour that you want changed or continued.
Is this what usually happens in the average work place?


Often feedback is

  • saved until the annual review or not given at all,
  • either all positive or all negative,
  • said in anger so that the delivery obscures the message,
  • the recipient  is given no information on how they can change their behaviour.
Anger can often get in the way of sound judgement. My father always told me never to show anger unless you are no longer angry. It is difficult to display the right amount of anger unless you are in a calm frame of mind.

Unfortunately the price of getting feedback wrong can be expensive.

Cost of delayed feedback

For ungiven feedback
  • the unhelpful behaviour continues until it is given.

In a  company I am familiar with management decided to offer permanent positions to two probationary programmers even though they were unhappy with their performance. They did so because they thought that they did not have time to find and train new programmers. There was an important release coming up. There is always an important release coming up. Do I need to tell you that it did not turn out well?

Cost of unconstructive feedback

Looking back at the long list of incidents that I have observed were feedback was saved up over a long period to be delivered on batch or targeted the recipient’s character, intent or I.Q. I can discern a pattern.

For unhelpful feedback
  • Productivity always decreases dramatically
  • The recipient never thinks they deserve it (even when they do)
  • It creates hostility and ill feelings.
  • The recipient often redirect their energies into non-work related activities where they can receive the praise that they do not receive at work.
People react to such negative appraisals in different ways. They always react badly but badly in unique ways. Some reactions I have seen are :-
  • spending a lot time at work talking on the phone with other potential employers.
  • a nervous breakdown.
  • skipping work without calling in.
  • writing insults directed at their supervisor into the source code.
  • start a computer hardware business on company time.
In one company I am familiar with the ill feeling caused by unproductive negative feedback was so bad that the project manager told the out of favor programmers to have a day off so that they would not 'contaminate' a new employee.


My advice is to address any problems as soon as they come up. Do not wait for an annual review. Address the problematic behaviour not the person. Encourage them to overcome the problem giving appropriate assistance if needed. Do not insult them or try to scare them. If it is clear that coaching with appropriate feedback is not helping, and their behaviour is not acceptable you need to terminate them.

Once the working relationship has broken down the situation can become uncomfortable even for bystanders. Mediating between warring co-workers becomes a series of temporary patches that resolve nothing. The situation often drags on and on negatively impacting the team.

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