One of the most important parts of the agile process is the ability to continuously learn and adapt. While most find it easy to share positive feedback during retrospectives with their teammates, sharing negative experiences and criticism can often be a challenge.

Negative feedback has the greatest potential to help people change in areas that can have a lasting impact. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand how to deliver feedback effectively. This creates a fear of messing up or being disliked that ultimately hinders people from providing feedback.

Teams that have built trust are more successful in sharing and acting on negative experiences. Here are six tips for sharing negative experiences effectively and building trust along the way.

1. Keep it in the retrospective

To build trust within the team, everybody needs to be honest and transparent. No one should feel like they will somehow be punished for admitting there is a problem. That means what happens in the retrospective stays in the retrospective. Don’t allow the bad experiences to inadvertently affect the team’s ability to be open with each other.

2. Don’t play the blame game

If you make your feedback personal, others will get defensive. This diverts attention away from the actual problem and creates a “me versus you” dynamic, which defeats the purpose and creates an entirely new problem. Avoid just blaming others without coming up with a solution. Try asking questions and making problem-solving collaborative to ensure the entire team takes ownership for fixing the process.

3. Get your emotions under control

You don’t want to critique someone’s actions when you are angry or upset. If tempers are hot, take time to cool down. Constructive feedback should be delivered as close to the observed incident as possible, but if the situation is heated, it’s fine to schedule a meeting for the next day.

4. Be specific

Telling someone they “screwed up” might be true, but it doesn’t indicate what they did wrong. Effective feedback describes particular behaviors or situations and identifies the business implications. For example: “John, when you are late and miss the standup, it requires the team to either wait for you or deal with rework as a result of your not being informed. We miss deadlines, it inconveniences your colleagues, and it may adversely affect how people view your value to the team. Do you understand?”

5. Ditch the “criticism sandwich”

According to a study from the University of Chicago, when a person surrounds criticism with compliments, about half the individuals who received negative feedback concluded they were doing great; they didn’t realize the criticism. Avoid burying negative feedback. If you’ve built a good relationship with the person, it won’t be necessary to provide a compliment to soften the blow.

6. Establish a time to follow up

Providing feedback does no good if the team has no intention of doing anything with it. Deciding how to resolve the issue and setting a clear date and time to process improvement actions is an important part of the feedback process. It establishes accountability and improves the probability of performance improvement.

This is a repost of my article on Techwell Insights.

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