If feedback is so great, why is it so hard?

photo: NUT by .Luca-Italy, Flickr

photo: NUT by .Luca-Italy, Flickr

Is it just me or does this strike you as odd?  I have a Google feed that sends me a daily digest of messages that include the term feedback.  I get hundreds of them!  Many people have suggestions for how to ask for and give feedback (including me) and many people talk about why it’s so important (like this post).  I’m curious why it’s such a hot topic, yet why it’s so infrequently discussed in a positive light.  So, I’ve been trying to apply design thinking to this nut to see if I can crack open some new insights and ideas.  Here’s some of what I’m gathering.  Feel free to join in, and I’ll keep you posted as it moves along.

Observations:

  • I have a friend who shares completely about what she’s thinking and seems to be very provocative in how she “pushes people’s buttons.”  For example, she has her young son get his toenails painted and lets everyone know that it’s important to do so… She rarely asks what other people think, mostly she tells stories.
  • I work with someone who rarely states his opinion, but asks amazing questions to get people to explain more about their initial comments.  When he starts to form an opinion about something he often presents it as a question (but not in an annoying, “what I hear you saying is…” kind of way).

Patterns:

  • Feedback is all around us, from facial expressions, to body posture, to words (and sounds).
  • People shy away from telling “the full truth” about their opinions.
  • Some people are tuned-in to other people’s reactions, suggestions, behaviors.
  • Some people seem oblivious to how they affect other people.

Experiments:

  • I put some post-it notes on our door at work to get people to ask questions about things I care about.  It seemed to work, and be fun.  It seems that not overstating something is more inviting to others than presenting a complete or definitive thought.
  • I’ve used Rypple to ask others questions before a meeting to help me understand what they care about and expect.  It was very easy and helped me create the agenda.

To improve my diversity of input and thinking, I’ve been reaching out to other people interested in exploring this topic, and have started a new “learning collaborative” with my friends at Rypple.  We are hosting our first design session in August and have gotten some great people from some great companies to join us.  At the first session, we’ll have folks from IDEO, Mozilla, Pixar, Method Home, the Federal Reserve Bank, Electronic Arts, Kiva.org, and more.  I hope this amazing collection of people working in a design process can helps get some real traction on feedback.