Gathering Quality Feedback
Communication is Key
Receiving quality feedback from whomever it is you are seeking it, depends heavily on a pure and quality communication of ideas. Then being the one who is requesting or in most need of the information that is being communicated, it is your role to fine-tune and set the stage for the best communication possible.
So in order to facilitate better communication, I’ve found it’s best to first identify the problematic parts of communication and work on overcoming those first. Here I’ve identified 3 points during the course of any communication where the potential for miscommunication is higher than other points of the conversation.
Once we cover the common fail-points of communication, then we’ll move on to getting the actual feedback, and you’ll see how it will be a lot easier to pull that feedback out of someone who otherwise does not know how to communicate to you the information that you are looking for.
Fail #1 : Terminology
First, for me to communicate to you what I mean, let me define my terminology here. As I see it within the context of communicating, terminology is the set of words we use that represent the set of ideas that we mean, not always bound by the definitions in the dictionary, but bound by our experiences and knowledge that we have acquired.
This terminology as I see it, is one of the most common points of misalignment in the communication of ideas. If you pay attention to two people debating, it is not uncommon to find them saying almost the same thing in differnet terms, thinking they are disagreeing with one another. Then they reach a point of realization that they in fact agree on the topic. Maybe you have experienced this with a friend or loved one?
Overcoming this terminology barrier, is one of the most useful assets I have discovered in my communication with my spouse. At any point of disagreement, we pause, take a moment to define our terms, to make sure that we understand exactly what we are talking about before continuing any further discussion. Once we align our terminology, we can then either recognize that we are actually closer to agreeing than disagreeing, or we can more clearly define on what points we disagree.
This becomes increasingly more valuable when you are communicating something to someone who is less familiar with the topic or terms. Or more specifically, when you are asking users, clients, viewers, or anyone in a target audience of sorts for feedback on an idea, design, or functionality you are trying to refine.
If you are still lost, or not quite following, let me try to use an example. You are an agency and the service you provide is web application software development to individuals and/or companies and you call them clients. A client asks you to add in functionality that when a visitor to the web app clicks a button for a popup to appear with their settings. At this point, if you have not established what they mean by popup, there is potential for a disconnect in communication. In many cases, you may assume you know what is meant, and you implement a genuine popup window. Then comes review time with the client, and you demonstrate the requested popup window. Instantly the client is appalled and says, “Do you think this is 2000? What kind of shop are you running here?”, or something to the same effect more or less dramatically. He then procedes to describe he wants a box to pop up with a shadow and a border the color of the brand, and to animate onto the page from off screen, etc, etc. You soon realize he is talking about a modalbox and not a popup window at all.
Identifying these potential terms that cause miscommunication, and being sensitive to recognizing when someone could be misunderstanding (that someone might be yourself as well) is critical to overcoming the barrier of teriminology and communicating more purely.
Fail #2 : Impatience
Secondly, you may be identifying terms and vocabulary and qualifying understanding, but the communication is still not working out. Often this is because of one or more of the participants’ lack of patience. Pure communicating requires work, and that requires patience. When someone is impatient in communicating, they are quick to jump to the conclusion that the communicationhas already happened, when in fact you are still trying to identify you are in fact talking about the same thing.
If you are the impatient one in the situation, take a breath, realize that the goal is quality, not quantity. Purely understanding one another is more important that partially understanding more people. If the person you are talking with is the impatient one, well…just come back later. Not a whole lot you can do to help an impatient person be patient. I find it best to come back to the conversation or topic at a later point.
Fail #3 : Pride (who’s right/wrong)
Pride is one of the worst hinderances to a productive conversation. Pride will manifest itself in many ways during communication. Sometimes we continue to disagree refusing to admit defeat because we are looking at it through a competitive perspective. Sometimes we just hate being wrong, because our ego is too fragile. Sometimes we are too worried about the other person understanding us or hearing what we have to say, that we aren’t listening to what they are saying. Sometimes we think ourselves better than the person, and justify they have nothing worth contributing to our own superiority.
If you have identified with any of these examples, try to ask yourself why you feel that way when you do. Once you identify the cause, you can start working on resolving it. But we’ll reserve that topic for another day.
If you made it this far in the reading, you might be thinking, “Wasn’t this a post about feedback or something?”. And yes it is, it’s just that communication is such an integral part of quality feedback, and miscommunication is the enemy.
Getting That Quality Feedback
Now that we understand the principle causes of miscommunication, keep those in mind as we go through methods and examples for getting the feedback that is most valuable. The majority of my examples will be tailored to designers, developers, or some sort of product creators.
In order to prepare to gather feedback, first decide what you want to know. List questions you might have, trying to keep them objective, to not influence their response one way or the other. Some questions I like to use when showing someone a website are:
- What do you notice first?
- What do you understand without reading too much?
- What feels confusing?
- What are you drawn to click first?
I have found these questions useful, but sometimes you just don’t know where to start. If that’s the case, sometimes I will just ask the user or viewer, to think out loud as they are viewing the website. Talk me through their thoughts as they go. Then to set expectations, I let them know ahead of time, I’m not going to answer their questions, but still need to know what they are.
You can come up with your own questions, more specific or more vague, but try to keep them as simple as you can. This is where understanding and overcoming terminology and impatience becomes important. Don’t become impatient with the person you are questioning when they aren’t giving you the answers you are looking for, or even answering your questions accurately. Try to make sure they understand exactly what you are referencing when you address them with a question. Then swallow your pride, and be just as excited to get the feedback that might indicate your work needs a lot of work and improvement.
To sum up the gist of this post, the most important part of getting quality feedback is communication. Remember to be explicit about terminology. Have patience with misunderstanding, it requires work. Strip yourself of pride, and become teachable. You can learn something from everyone. Everyone has a different perspective, and that in itself is valuable. Say exactly and only what you mean. Ask exactly and only what you want to know. Use fewer, more precise words, when precision communication is critical.
I do not proclaim to be any sort of certified specialist in this topic, I merely like to share my experiences and opinions that I have developed through my own many attempts to communicate more efficiently. Take it for what it’s worth, and I’d love to hear additional ways that you’ve learned to communicate in giving and receiving feedback.