Monday, August 9, 2021

Feedback: What Counts as "Not Public"

Actions to take: Don't interpret "not public" too strictly. It will hamper the quality and quantity of your feedback. Give feedback when it is clear that you are just talking to one person and not intending your comment for anyone else to hear. That can occur in a wide variety of context that technically count as public spaces. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

If you agree with the premise that feedback is never public, you might be thinking that you need to pull someone into your office and shut the door every time you want to give feedback. I appreciate your enthusiasm! However, that takes "not public" a little too far.

Interpreting "not public" that strictly will hamper your ability to give feedback. You'll find yourself giving less feedback. You will delay giving feedback too many days, waiting for the perfect environment, and the wait will make your feedback less effective. We don't need to make these sacrifices.

There is no need to hide in a soundproof chamber to give feedback. Generally, "not public" just means it is clear that you are only talking to one person. People know what they are intended to hear. If your words are intended to only reach one person, others will respect that. (If you have anyone on your team who does not respect it and intentionally eavesdrops on conversations that are not meant for them, that is not a problem with how you are delivering feedback. That is a problem with having an employee who needs a serious conversation about respectful workplace behaviors.)

That's the general rule of thumb. Let's get specific. Situations that are "not public" and therefore fine to give feedback:

  • Your office, door closed or door open
  • Their workspace, even if it is an open floor plan, assuming there is some ambient noise
  • During a break in a meeting, assuming that you are next to one another
  • During a virtual meeting, using a channel only the two of you can hear
  • In a cafeteria, coffee shop, or other public space where individual conversations occur
  • At a customer service desk, assuming there are no customer interactions happening and no other staff present
  • A few steps away from a customer service desk
Situations that are "public" and it is not an acceptable time to give feedback:
  • Your office when others are present in the office
  • During a meeting while others are watching and listening
  • Interrupting a customer service interaction to give feedback in front of the customer
  • Interrupting a conversation between coworkers to give feedback to one in front of the other
  • During a break in a virtual meeting using the general voice channel others can hear
  • Any of the "not public" spaces from the first list, but you use a louder volume than is appropriate for that type of conversation. (Raising your volume typically indicates, "Hey, other people listen up even though I am ostensibly talking to this one person")

If in doubt, use your common sense. Think of your personal life. We can have engaging one-on-one conversations in a crowded house, in a restaurant, waiting for the bus, etc. It is the same at work. "Not public" just means that you are only giving feedback when there is not an audience there to hear it. That leaves the door open (does that count as a pun?) to give feedback in a wide variety of contexts.

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