Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Feedback: Friend or Foe?

#testing #feedback

I'm currently making notes on learning opportunities and one aspect that I thought needed separate treatment was on how testers give feedback to each other.

If you think about your experience in the work environment, on testing forums, twitter and blog comments are you keeping it professional - with the emphasis on professional courtesy?

I've seen examples on forums where sometimes a "seemingly innocent" comment or question is met with annoyance, condescension, rebuttal or frustration. Let's call it "unfriendly feedback".

Some Unfriendly Feedback Types
Annoyance: Maybe the responder had a bad day?

Condescension: What's the responder trying to show? Hopefully they are not falling into the "knowledge is power" syndrome. This is not a team-player response.

Rebuttal: This can be a legitimate "critical thinking" response. However, remember that the essence of critical thinking is about understanding and clarifying communication and not about being "critical".

Frustration: Maybe the question was something that could have been googled or someone has just asked a re-formulation of a previous question.

My Take?
One of my professional mottos is that "I'll help anyone but won't do the work for them."

This can be a fine line - especially for newbies - sometimes they don't know where to start, don't know which questions to ask first, how to formulate the question and are just keen to "start". That enthusiasm is good; it's an ingredient for future interest and development.

So, yes, answering questions from newbies can sometimes be hard work - the key is to direct and discuss threads for investigation. But remember, questions from non-testers can also sometimes be hard work!

These feedback types are equally visible in many peoples' work environment. They are not limited to tester<->tester, it occurs tester<->non-tester and non-tester<->non-tester also.

I've seen consultants treated less than courteously precisely because they were consultants - to their credit they responded professionally. This falls into a wanabee-superiority response and I don't think of it as a feedback type - more a cooperation problem.

Give it to 'em
If you're giving feedback keep it professional, courteous or light/humorous. If you can't then count to ten and try again. The important thing is not to withhold feedback just because you're biting your lip or counting to 10, 100, 1000,.... Give the feedback - it helps the receiver and it helps you!

If you're on the receiving end of the above type of feedback then rise above it. Don't bite back and lead by example. Give it back to 'em - an example of professionalism that is!
Note. When I was a new tester I was on the receiving end of the condescension type of response from a fellow tester in my organisation. I persevered - and saw that tester subsequently sidelined. If you're not a teamplayer then you're heading for a team of one!
I know! Easier said than done at times!

Have you been on the receiving end of unfriendly feedback? How did you respond?

Have you recently given unfriendly feedback? How do you think it made the receiver feel?


  1. Hi Simon,

    Really good post. I like the information you provide. I know I've sometimes left harsh comments for testers in the past, often because they mention the dreaded words 'Best' and 'Practice' or ask me to do their work for them. You are right though there are some people who can't help but offer feedback in a way that is not constructive.

    Great post.


  2. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the "feedback".

    I'd be surprised if no one has given some unfriendly feedback in some point in their career. The important thing is to recognise it and "try" and learn from it.


  3. I'm always honest (otherwise it's pointless) and I don't believe I've given harsh/unfriendly feedback however my perception of hard and unfriendly will obviously differ to others. I may have received harsh/unfriendly feedback and not noticed on the other hand I may have given it and not noticed.

  4. Hi Tony,
    Thanks. Yes honesty is a basic requirement.

    Perceptions from the other person's perspective are always difficult - so it's quite true that feedback can be received in a way that wasn't intended...

    I usually think about a critical thinking lesson - if it's open to interpretation (the feedback) and/or vague then there's a risk that it will be intrepretted differently - may be ok if one of the interpretations isn't overly sensitive to the receiver.

    The thing I like about this (some will hate) is that feedback has to be tailored to the individual - that's challenging.