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Management 101: Giving Feedback
You're a first-time manager, your team mate has made a mistake, and you need to tell them so. How do you go about it?
1. Don’t delay the conversation. Get ready and tell them tomorrow at the latest. It’s your responsibility. If you know someone’s screwing up and you don’t tell them right away, you become an accomplice.
2. Praise publicly, and criticize privately. Schedule a private 1:1 session. Never criticize someone’s work publicly in front of other colleagues.
3. Check on them first. Is everything fine with them at home? It’s your job to know if they need your support outside of work. Remember, work is just work.
4. Have explicit examples. Be ready to discuss specifics. "Remember last Thursday when you did X? I'd really have preferred you to have done Y in that situation because of Z." Have screenshots ready, links to pull requests or Slack conversations you can reference. Nothing is worse than ambiguity when you're criticizing someone’s work.
5. Cover everything in a single session. Once you're giving someone feedback, don’t be half-hearted. Otherwise, they’ll tell you “You didn’t mention that last time” the next time you talk.
6. Is this a repeated mistake? Acknowledge that. "Remember when we were discussing X last week? We agreed that…”
7. Be firm but kind. Never make it personal. Talk about “the work” they've done, not about the person themselves. Do not ever let your emotions get the better of you.
8. Don’t leave anything unsaid or vague. If you’re not explicit enough, you can’t expect them to understand something you barely implied. Over-communicate rather than under-communicate.
9. Reason from first principles. They might be operating on a different set of beliefs than you, for example, saying “That wasn’t my job”. Be ready to dig deep and get down to first principles if you need to: "Look, how would the business function if everyone was doing this?”
10. The discussion takes as long as it takes. The meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes? Great. Make sure both of you have free time in the calendars afterward. Take your time when speaking, use silence to your advantage. It’s completely fine to breathe in and think for 5-10 seconds about what you want to say before you continue talking. If you discuss the issue in-depth enough, they should be able to acknowledge the problem in the end. If they’re not, delve into it with, “It feels like you’re getting a bit defensive. Do you think what I’m saying is not fair?”
11. Be specific about what you want to happen next. Is this the last warning before you need to let them go? Tell them that.
12. Be ready for extreme reactions. Prepare for every possible outcome of the conversation, regardless of how unlikely. They could laugh, cry, shout at you, or quit on the spot. What would you do if they did that?
Don't worry, you’ll do fine. Radical candor is an integral part of a well-functioning team.
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