“I don’t know who you’re trying to impress with this pamphlet, but with all due respect, I think it’s very incomplete and useless.”

“Hello, I read the last newsletter regarding requirements engineering. Really great! One question – what further training with certificate do you recommend on this topic?”

“hi, micha, I want to tell you again that I really like the picture of the avalonia blog post.”

In the last two days I’ve received feedback from various people. Among others these three responses. How would you feel about the messages? I was happy about two of the three messages. “Feedback is a gift” is often said. It almost sounds like a text in a fortune cookie. If I’m honest: I’m not happy about every gift I receive. And how should I be happy about the first feedback?

Interestingly enough, the special thing about gifts – at least for me as I get older – is not the obvious pleasure that friends, colleagues or business contacts want to give me, but the attention they show me. In my circle of friends, for example, time is gladly given away. Time together for an excursion, a picnic or a visit to a restaurant. Transferred to the three responses: Feedback is a form of attention. And so every feedback directed at me deserves my attention. Even the first one.

The intention of feedback

What is the intention of feedback? Without claiming to be complete, there are various intentions, e.g.

  • praise and criticism,
  • appreciation,
  • encouragement,
  • evaluation,
  • advice,
  • interpersonal interaction.¹

“I don’t know who you’re trying to impress with this pamphlet, but with all due respect, I think it’s very incomplete and useless.” What would you say the intention of this message is? An evaluation, yes. Definitely criticism. Interpersonal interaction probably isn’t. Interaction was on the second statement “… Really great! One question – what further training with certificate do you recommend on this topic?” clearly an aspect. After some thinking, I decided to send the following message back:

“Hello and good morning Mr X,

thank you for your short message. Can you please specify your feedback? What is missing, what could be better, etc.? And I would be happy to see how we can implement your suggestions if necessary.

Best wishes, thank you and have a nice holiday”

Unfortunately I did not receive any further answer to my inquiry. Therefore I can only assume that the sender did not receive what he expected from a download from our company. But what did he expect? Did we raise false expectations? The download contains a summary of four partial aspects, whose keywords are searched for on Google Germany about 13,000 times a month. We rank twice on position 1 and twice on position 2 for the terms. Could it be due to the quality of the content? In short: I do not know.

What I know from my own experience is that there are factors that do have an influence on the quality of feedback. What situation am I in right now: rushed and in a hurry or relaxed and satisfied. What emotions am I experiencing right now: anger and rage or calmness and joy. Do I want to do something good for my counterpart – despite all criticism? Is my intention benevolent or do I perhaps not even care about the effect? In itself, a sender should not be indifferent to the effect, because after all he or she pays attention to the recipient. It would be much easier for him or her not to pay attention. Without an answer to my question above, much remains in the dark. Unfortunately.

The effect of feedback

“I was happyabout two of the three messages” I wrote at the beginning of the article. I suppose most readers would have felt the same way. The form in which a message is offered influences the effect of the message. A friendly introduction opens doors, an insinuation – with all due respect – closes doors. But that words can have a great power is nothing new.² Nor is it surprising that feedback says a lot about the sender. I would like to move on to another aspect of the impact of feedback. Effect must unfold. At least with and within me.

Feedback also says something about the receiver. More precisely: how to deal with it. Sometimes feedback needs weeks or even months until a statement comes back to my mind and I think: “Wow, how cool. That’s not how I understood it at all, but that’s great.” With all the kindness and goodwill of the station, I was not able to take the message at the time. I couldn’t discover the beauty of the thought behind it, couldn’t grasp the idea. I would say that I’m very open to suggestions for improvement. I want to optimise “things” more and more. Writing more intelligent texts. Offer better downloads. To convince more people of our services. I also have no problem perceiving an individual opinion as such and judging aspects differently. I cannot and do not want to please everyone. But: Feedback is a response. And if I am willing to think about this response – at whatever time – then I gain from any feedback. Regardless of the words chosen and possibly even independent of the intention of the broadcaster.

The lack of interest in feedback

Every day there are infinite possibilities to give feedback to others. Perhaps it is a sign of our increasing digitalisation, the fast pace of our consumption, that many people are increasingly reluctant to give or ask for feedback. I wonder, for example

  • that in my entire professional career I have only met one applicant who asked me after my rejection what he could do better in his next application.
  • when I am allowed to give information to car sharing providers about the cleanliness of the car after a trip, but I am never asked whether the car was also parked where it should have been according to the app.
  • when café owners in times of Corona don’t even ask the residents of the house what service they would expect from the café now.
  • when I cancel a mobile phone contract, why I receive an email with the message “If you have cancelled by mistake, you can undo your cancellation with one click here”, but no question why I have cancelled. (And just between us: it wasn’t because of the costs.)

Is that disinterest? Is it the worry of not being able to handle the information? Maybe you have some information for me about this?

Conclusion

In fact, I believe that feedback is a gift. At the same time, giving feedback is also a bit of an art. If I succeed in designing my statement in such a way that it figuratively appeals to the viewer in its colours and shapes, then it can have an intended effect on the recipient. But if I don’t succeed, it is not bad for two reasons:

  • There is no obligation to accept feedback.
  • The effect of feedback can unfold over time.

I am a great friend of feedback. If it is formulated in a friendly way, it can be very clear and direct. I will probably never be happy about unfriendly comments and I am quite sure that I will not always be able to extract the positive from every feedback. But I’m still young despite my increasing age – so I can still work on my skills a bit. And how about just giving me feedback on what we could do even better here at t2informatik, on the website, in the blog or newsletter. I would (probably) be happy. 😉

 

Notes:

There are two nice, short posts that I would like to link here:

[1] https://www.viktorcessan.com/the-four-intentions-feedback-model/
[2] https://debpalmergeorge.com/help-hurt-intention-feedback/

Michael Schenkel has published further articles in the t2informatik blog, including

t2informatik Blog: Customers don't know what they want

Customers don’t know what they want

t2informatik Blog: The value of a company

The value of a company

t2informatik Blog: Mission customer focus

Mission customer focus

Michael Schenkel
Michael Schenkel

Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH

Michael Schenkel is a graduate business economist and is passionate about marketing. He has a certificate for excellent hiking characteristics, Odenwaldtour in classes 6a/6b and since 1984 the Seahorse. He likes to blog about requirements engineering, project management, stakeholders and marketing. And he will certainly be delighted if you meet him in the real world for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake or for a virtual get-together.