How to Give Unsolicited Feedback
Giving good feedback is an art. When someone wants to listen, at least they’re open. But if they don’t want to listen, you need to find a way to open their ears before they’ll open their minds.
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If you’re like me, you’re just full of useful advice that you want to give everyone you meet. Whenever you see them doing something, you are just bursting with the impulse to tell them how they can do it even better. If it’s something they do poorly, you can help them do it well. And if it’s something they’re an expert in—and you have no experience with the topic to speak of—you still just know, deep in your bones, that they can benefit from the brilliant insights that flow endlessly from your crisp, clear, quality thinking.
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In my case, I just put all that great information out on my podcast, secure in the knowledge that I’m changing the world. And yet, there are some people out there who just don’t recognize my brilliance.
Once in a while, someone writes in saying, “I love the concept behind your podcast. But could you just get to the point and skip the humor and the chattiness? Your sense of humor sucks. Your podcast would be better if it were a dry, monotone program where you recite just the useful information, packaged for my personal convenience.” You can imagine how privileged I feel, that someone who is downloading my hard work for free, is willing to take the time to write and tell me how I should change it, because they don’t like my style.
From their point of view, they are being helpful. From my point of view, I hope their Oreo ice cream cake melts before they can have a slice. That’s because no one appreciates unsolicited feedback unless it’s unconditionally flattering. Not even me.
Give Advice When Asked
If someone asks for advice, that’s one thing. Give them advice. When you’re giving the advice, make sure to avoid value judgments about way they currently do things. We know you’re thinking it. Just don’t say it out loud. When they ask, “What do you think of my report?” Don’t say “First off, the grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, tone, formatting, margins, and content really sucks. Make it easier to read.”
When you’re judgmental, your target gets defensive and stop listening. Also, as hard as it is to believe, this person may know better than you. If you make fun of their stupidity, and you turn out to be the one who’s wrong, you’ll fall into a deep depression, become addicted to Skittles and orange soda, get a bad complexion, and ruin your chances for love in this lifetime. That would be bad.
Be non-judgmental and make your advice specific. “Make it easier to read” is too vague. Explain how to make it easier to read. Say something like: , “Make your headings bold so they stand out more.” That’s specific.
Ask Before Giving Unsolicited Advice
When someone doesn’t ask for advice, they probably won’t be thrilled to be getting it. Start by asking permission to give advice. Even so, be careful. Even something as innocuous as “I have a suggestion for how you could do this better” implies that what they’re doing now isn’t good enough.
Phrase your question in terms of your own, non-judgmental experience. “I notice you are indenting your paragraphs by typing spaces. I used to do that, too, and then I found a quicker way to do it. Would you like me to share it with you?”
Honor Their “No”
This is where you get to practice listening. “Yes” means “Yes.” If they say “Yes,” you’re ready to give your advice.
“No,” however, means “No.” If a person says “No,” they won’t listen to you. I know you’re just bursting to impress with your brilliance, but your friend simply isn’t interested. Go start a blog or a podcast, and then people who are interested will listen to you.