Question: I manage a small team of six or so developers. We’ve recently hired a junior who’s got a lot of potential, but takes every piece of negative feedback personally. I don’t want to upset them every time I have something critical to tell them. What should I do?
Answer: Giving feedback is one of the toughest skills any manager has to learn. Every time you give an opinion about someone’s work, you will achieve one of two things:
- You’ll boost their confidence
- Or you’ll rip it to shreds
Obviously, option 1 is the most desirable outcome, but it’s easier said than done. People tend to remember negative feedback much more readily than positive feedback. A lot of junior developers will take any criticism to heart – but there’s a way to structure your feedback to ensure they always come out of it feeling positive.
How to structure your feedback
Think of three positive things to say about what they’re working on, and only two suggestions.
Start with the second and third things you like best about what they’ve done. Talk about why those things are important and how they help achieve the project’s goal.
Then move onto your suggestions – and introduce them as suggestions and not recommendations. ‘Suggestions’ allow them to connect the dots and see the larger picture on their own; recommendations are instructive and can be seen as thinly-veiled criticisms.
Finally, finish on a high – tell them what they’ve done best . Follow the same structure as your other positive points.
The goal of feedback is to help someone improve, and people only improve if they feel good. Structuring your feedback in way that emphasises the good while offering valuable suggestions for improvement will help navigate all personalities.
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