As a product manager, you are giving feedback all the time. Designers want your views on the latest mockups, engineers want to know if what they’ve built is what customers are looking for (not what you are looking for mind you, that’s hardly the point), other PMs want your feedback for anything ranging from how their roadmap affects your plans to getting your opinion on the latest release.
Giving feedback is an art. There’s a way to do it effectively & productively. A few years back, I read Radical Candor by Kim Scott and it really opened my eyes on how to give feedback to anyone (not just colleagues). I’ve been trying and failing but trying again to live up to the model of challenging directly while caring personally.
But giving feedback is easy (it’s not really easy but easier) compared to receiving feedback and taking action on it. Over time and with multiple stumbles, fubbles and falls, I’ve developed my own simple framework to do that. I recently had a round of constructive feedback given to me around my ability to collaborate effectively so I’ll use that to illustrate.
Multiple people I respect made it clear to me that I had an inability to listen to other people’s opinions and make them feel that I given them a respectful hearing. This was holding me back as a product manager.
Hear It Out
The most important thing is to welcome feedback. You have to be open to at least hearing what someone has to say or they won’t bother the next time around.
The key thing I’ve realized about feedback is acknowledging you have a problem. Feedback is hard to take. Always. We instinctively put up defensive walls around us when we hear criticism (constructive or otherwise). I’ve found it useful to let the initial response play out (internally if at all possible). But then I force myself to start from the assumption that what has been said is 100% true.
“I never do that! Surely, this is someone who is aggrieved and has it out for me because of some perceived slight.” But then I got to thinking about it. Had I received similar feedback in the past? Maybe it hadn’t been this direct or it had been framed differently. Then the gears started turning. Well yes as it turns out, people had probably tried to tell me something similar in the past on numerous occasions…. “Houston, we have a problem!”
See The Opportunity
Once you acknowledge the problem it can almost always be converted into a good thing. A chance to improve and be better. It gives you massive leverage. You cannot not only mitigate this weakness but why not turn it into a strength?
Communication is one of the core competencies for a product manager. A PM doesn’t have power, only influence. So an inability to influence others is not a minor detriment, it is debilitating to the ability to do the job. Acknowledging and acting on this feedback will up my PM game by levels of magnitude.
Now, you need understand the given feedback much more deeply. Introspection helps, but engaging people helps even more. Talk to the same people again and ask them for more detail, nuance, examples. Or talk to different people to get a more diverse perspective that leads to a much deeper understanding.
To know more, I went ahead and asked for a review from a peer who I knew would take it seriously and be willing to help.
Research What Needs To Be Done
Go divergent and find out how to improve whatever it is that needs improving. Note here that without a deep understanding of the true problem it is very easy to find solutions for the wrong thing, so the previous step is mandatory!
My usual strategy to understand anything is to read, then read some more and then read again.Usually a Google search or two is enough to get you relevant, concise and freely available material on almost any topic related to personal development. You can also ask for resources from people you respect.
One thing I’m trying to do more is to proactively ask for coaching. People may not have time and that’s okay. But if they are willing, this a massive boost.
I was able to narrow down on Active Listening as something I need to learn and live by.
Do What Needs To Be Done, Track & Repeat
This is fairly self-explanatory. Follow whatever set of actions your research helps you arrive upon. You will fail….many times since behavioral change is extremely hard. So track your progress and make course-corrections. There will come a time When you fail and you kick yourself and think … How could I be so stupid! . This is a major milestone. You have internalized the feedback!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve started to follow the precepts of active listening. I’ve been somewhat successful but I’ve also failed multiple times. Recently on a call with one of my peers, they interrupted me to say “Hey, listen to me!”. I cringed. That’s progress and it’s a sign that the feedback has been internalized. Even though it will take a long time to see marked improvement I know that I will get there.