Why feedback fails + actionable tips for better feedback

Have you ever received feedback from a client that left you scratching your head? 

Perhaps the feedback was vague, or the client was speaking a different language altogether. 

You see, feedback fails happen far too often, and we’ve all been there.

at least, some of us have

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Like sailors on a stormy sea trying to navigate treacherous waters, our guide will act as a compass to help navigate murky feedback processes.

So, prepare as we set sail toward more precise, actionable feedback. 

But before we do that, let’s clarify what feedback isn’t by explaining what feedback fallacy is.  

Table of contents

What’s the feedback fallacy?

The feedback fallacy is the mistaken belief that feedback from others or experts is always accurate, objective, and absolute. As a result, the feedback recipient is always expected to keep an open mind and follow without question.

This is a fallacy because there’s a chance that the feedback received may not be correct, and following it may lead to undesirable results. 😱

Let’s assume your team receives feedback from the client on the current state of a web design project they’re working on.

It’s easy for your team just to assume the feedback is correct because it’s coming from the owner of the job. After all, ‘the customer is always right’ is a mantra that always pops up in situations like this. 

Your team will wanna try and implement the client’s feedback regardless of what the outcome might be for the project.

A better approach, however, is first to evaluate the feedback objectively.  Try to examine how the changes your client is requesting will affect the main website. Do they align with what the client’s audience expects?

If the answer is no, you must clarify that for the client. Discuss the implications of their feedback with clients and address any areas of concern. 

So, are you saying that this fallacy is why feedback fails?

Well, not entirely. The way feedback is presented can also contribute to its failure. 

Let’s look at types of feedback that’ll inevitably lead to failure.  

4 types of feedback that are doomed to fail

Usually, feedback is given to improve a situation, project, or team, or support a team member’s performance management program. 

But if it falls into any of the categories outlined below, then buddy, the feedback is likely doomed to fail. 🤷

It’s like that scene in Avengers: Infinity War where Doctor Strange goes into ‘spirit mode’, and his figurative feedback was that out of fourteen million possibilities, they only had one opportunity to defeat Thanos.

GIF Source: Giphy

That was negative feedback that ultimately led to the Avenger’s defeat. 

So, what are the ‘Thanoses’ of feedback? Let’s look at a few.

Unclear feedback

A new client has just asked your team to create a new urban logo for their organization. Of course, everyone is happy that a new client has been onboarded. 

Designers get to work, create several logos, and present them to the client for feedback.

They respond by saying, “These logos aren’t attractive. Can I get something different?”

This type of feedback is too to act upon. You’re left wondering what they don’t like or how you should proceed. 

So, while whoever is giving their honest feedback might mean well, the recipient usually ends up looking like this:

GIF Source: Giphy

To give clear, actionable, and effective feedback, the client should be specific about what’s wrong with the current logos and what they’d like to see instead. 

They could say, “I don’t like the color scheme used in these logos. “I’d like to try using warmer colors and incorporate a light bulb image to represent our creative focus.”

Now, that’s what I call direct and actionable feedback!

Personal feedback 

You’re a copywriter at a marketing agency presenting a client’s social media marketing campaign strategy to internal stakeholders for approval

They respond with, “Is this all? It feels like you’re not putting enough energy and creativity into this work. Can you try to put more flair into this?”

This type of feedback conversation is too personal because it’s directed at the copywriter as a person – not the campaign strategy (which is what really matters!). 

Giving personal feedback like this can tank the entire project because it can be demotivating. 

A better approach from the stakeholders could be to concentrate on aspects of the strategy that need to be improved. This way, the copywriter leaves the meeting with a clear sense of direction. 

Harsh criticism 

Think personal feedback is bad? You haven’t met its senior colleague – harsh criticism. 😱

That is super-critical feedback with a negative undertone. It points out flaws and mistakes in your work, which can be discouraging and demotivating.

While the feedback giver thinks it’s just a little tough love, the recipient can’t help but rethink his or her life and wonder if they’re even in the right field.

Picture this:

You’ve just shared a new web design concept with your team to get their feedback. After hearing the pitch, a senior colleague responds, “I don’t understand this. This concept completely differs from the previous projects we’ve done for this client. You need to start over and start taking this seriously.” 

These comments will likely fail to produce the desired effect because the designer will feel their work is not appreciated.

Contradictory feedback

You’re designing a mobile app for your client’s e-commerce business. After sharing it with internal stakeholders, one says the logo beside the search bar has too many colors and asks you to use fewer colors. Another stakeholder says you need to use more colors to make it pop. 

The designer is presented with conflicting feedback, which makes it difficult to decide how to proceed.

***

When we receive feedback, we can react in several ways. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the most common responses to reviews.

Common negative reactions to feedback

As humans, we have a natural need to gain the approval of others, especially people we hold in high esteem. 

When we’re met with disapproval, it triggers negative responses in our brains – as if there’s a physical danger just around the corner.

They include:

Fight or flight response 🥷🏽

Fight or flight response is a behavioral or psychological response to threats. The mind is faced with the decision to confront the threat (fight) or escape it (flight). 

Let’s say you’ve just received harsh criticism from a colleague or boss about an Android app you’re designing. You might feel threatened, which could trigger the fight-or-flight response.

In the fight response, you become defensive and try to justify your decisions or disprove the feedback. You might start arguing, gesticulating, or even raising your voice. 

The flight response is a reaction to negative feedback that involves ignoring or avoiding the critique, as well as withdrawing from it.

Freeze response 🥶

Have you ever gone numb after receiving feedback? It’s as if you were in a daze, unable to act or respond to the feedback.

It’s called the freeze response, and your body’s instinctual reaction to perceived threats causes this behavior. You may become withdrawn, silent, or confused as you try to understand what happened.

Enough of the doom and gloom. There are better ways to give feedback that won’t make the recipient feel lost or incompetent. 

We’ll discuss those next.

7 actionable tips for better feedback

Good feedback improves productivity and creates a company culture where there’s psychological safety

Team members spend less time feeling bad about their work or wondering what needs to be done and more time trying to implement the feedback. 

It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. So, here are some things you can do to help.

✅ Share clear and specific feedback

Avoid feedback that leads to doubt and raises more questions. If, after going through your comments, the recipient isn’t clear about what they need to do, you need to further simplify your expectations. 

Avoid questions like: “Can you improve the quality of your work? Or can the design be better?” 

Instead, say:

James, I love the icons and fonts you used on the mobile app design. But I think the font sizes are too big for the theme we’re using. Can you make them smaller?

Clear, specific feedback triggers open communication, allowing recipients to share their thoughts and implement the feedback.

✅ Leave constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is actionable and focused on improvement. It’s not focusing on past mistakes or personal faults to make a point. 

If you want to have constructive conversations, spend time describing: 

  • The situation in question
  • The action people took 
  • The outcome of that action

This way, you’ll avoid hurtful feedback as it will be based on the situation, not the person. 

Second, offer an alternative action as soon as possible.

Essentially, try to focus on what was done well and what needs to be improved. Don’t wait till it’s time for performance improvement reviews to give constructive feedback. 

This can help create a culture of employee engagement, where even junior employees can develop a growth mindset. 

✅ Focus on the tasks, not the persons

When giving feedback, focus on the actual task performance and how it can be better rather than focusing on the person involved. 

This way, you won’t trigger their fight/flight or freeze response.

So, instead of dismissing a web design as the fault of the designer, try, “The layout of the website is too tight, which makes it difficult for users to navigate. Create more pages so you can spread out the content and make it easier for users to find what they need.

✅ Be timely and relevant with your feedback

According to reports, more than 90% of employees love to receive timely feedback from their team lead. So, try as much as possible to give feedback immediately after submitting a project. 

Let’s say your team has been working on a series of projects for a client, using the same color scheme over time. The last project they submitted to you for feedback was two weeks ago, but you just noticed they used the wrong colors.

They’ve moved on to other projects already, and you’re just telling them you’d prefer a  different color scheme. 

It’s important to provide feedback early in the process because it can help you avoid problems later on.

✅ Boost team accountability

Team accountability is the responsibility of different individuals in a group to achieve shared goals, such as ensuring that everyone’s working on the same project and that they’re all on the same page.

Another way to improve feedback is to boost team accountability. Here are some methods that might help: 

  • Set expectations and document them so everyone knows what’s expected of them. 
  • Assign tasks to everyone on the team
  • Create a feedback culture that embraces mistakes so no one fears taking responsibility.
  • Reward wins and milestones.
  • Organize meetings to track the project’s progress.
  • Embrace open communication.
  • Follow up on tasks.

When everyone knows what they’re supposed to do, leaving feedback won’t be too complicated. 

✅ Offer continuous support

If your teammates see you as someone who has been there with them from the beginning, showing support, they will feel open to receiving your feedback.

Providing support shows you care about a project and the person behind it. So, when you eventually give feedback, it won’t make them feel attacked or frozen out. 😉 

✅ Use tools that facilitate feedback

How feedback is requested and received can help streamline your entire workflow. 

You probably know how stressful it can be if you’re currently using asynchronous communication tools like Gmail to leave feedback. 

Depending on the file type, you might have to take screenshots or zip them before sending them. Or write lengthy texts to provide context to what you’re describing and hope everyone involved sees the email on time.  

The point is, it’s a lot of work.

With a collaboration tool like MarkUp.io, however, you can request or receive feedback in a few steps:

  • Sign up for the platform
  • Upload the file.
  • Click anywhere on the file to leave a comment.
  • Share files with collaborators. 

Why is using a collaboration tool better?

Well, you can: 

  • Get pixel-accurate, contextual feedback so everyone knows what needs to be done. 
  • Tag team members or stakeholders to specific aspects of the project you want them to work on in real time. 
  • Record videos just in case text won’t do the trick. 
  • Share with multiple collaborators via email or live URL. 

***

If you’ve always been terrified of the nightmare that is feedback, it’s time to wave your magic wand and make it more simplified than ever. 

Wondering what the wand is?

We’ll give you a hint, it’s a tool you can use to …

Optimize your feedback processes for success

You can wake up from the crushing midnight horrors of feedback discussions you’ve been used to over time. 

…like the one that keeps you up at night wondering when the client’s or team lead’s email will drop. 

With the help of MarkUp.io, you can begin to request and receive contextual, visual, pixel-accurate, and honest feedback. 

Sign up for a free 14-day trial on MarkUp.io to get started.