The feedback wrap is an approach to constructing feedback in an organised and helpful way. Taken from Management 3.0 it's a technique used to help maximise the chances of feedback, whether constructive or positive, having the best impact and outcomes for both the person giving and the person receiving the feedback. Put simply, the technique helps you deliver better feedback.
How does the feedback wrap technique work?
Constructing feedback using the feedback wrap prompts you to carefully consider both your intention for giving feedback and how to deliver it so that it lands effectively. This is important to do so that the feedback adds real value to the person receiving it and achieves the intended aim of the person giving it. The technique does so by providing a simple template to help organise and focus what it is you're trying to pass on.
The feedback wrap technique is broken down into five steps:
1. Describe your context
Give some background to set the scene and give the context in which the feedback is being given, and should be taken.
e.g. During the sprint review this morning when we were demoing the new notification features
2. List your observations
Describe the specifics of what you're giving feedback on, making them specific and focussed on the behaviour or action.
e.g. I noticed you said "Well it was working fine on my machine, and I would have assumed one of the testers should have caught it"
3. Express your feelings
Describe how you felt to make the feedback more powerful and help the person reflect on the effect on others rather than focussing on themselves
e.g. This made me feel uncomfortable on behalf of the team and I'm worried that it looks defensive in front of the stakeholders.
4. Explain the value
What is the valuable part of the feedback that you're giving, why does it matter?
e.g. We work as a team and I'm always keen to ensure we project this externally and I'm not certain this would be the case based on how you phrased that
5. Offer some suggestions
Provide suggestions to show your commitment to helping them improve rather than offloading or leaving it entirely with them. You could also ask a question to prompt for suggestions from them.
e.g. I'll be happy to help you with communication techniques to help raise issues with stakeholders. And as a team we can look at how we improve our working agreement to focus on team accountability
How to use the technique
As the person wanting to give feedback it's worth organising your thoughts beforehand using the steps above. Writing it down really helps, ensuring you've covered each of the steps in order and answered the prompts.
If you're intending on delivering the feedback verbally and in person (which in most cases is the best approach) then to avoid delivering it as a speech it's helpful to then just use these as notes to refer to and as a structure to follow. Use the notes and the structure to then deliver your feedback as part of a conversation, taking care for this to feel natural and allow for conversation both ways.
If it's to be delivered as written feedback you should aim to write your feedback following the structure subtly rather than explicitly broken out into steps but check that you have followed the prompts to maximise the chance of it being effective. Also consider the phrasing and language you use to try and consider whether it could misinterpreted in any way. It's well worth getting someone to peer review and critique if possible.
Why is feedback important?
Feedback is vital for people to grow and improve. It helps us learn and reflect on things that otherwise we may not have realised. However giving good constructive feedback is hard and many people struggle to both give and receive feedback well. By placing importance on feedback and by focussing on giving feedback effectively, teams and organisations can build a culture where feedback helps bring about improvements for both individuals and the wider group.
What is good feedback?
There's a difference between appreciation and feedback, and everyone needs both. Appreciation is recognising when people do things that make a positive difference, in any way. It would be hard to think that this could be overdone — no one ever worked less well for being appreciated!
Feedback, however, is more tricky. Feedback is often too high level and vague, whether positive ("great job on that project, you were a key part of the team") or negative ("you're not really pulling your weight, the team is suffering as a result"). Feedback needs to be actionable by the receiver if it's to be effective, and everything that can be done to help that be the case improves the chances of it being effective.
Here are some characteristics of good feedback:
The more specific feedback is, the more chance there is that the person will understand and be able to turn that into learning and improvement. Just like small user stories or tasks, small specific feedback helps people to focus and to improve the chances of the same shared understanding (it's easy to assume the other person is getting your point, but by way of an analogy, for every person that sees a blue and black dress there are others seeing gold and white). Feedback such as "your tests weren't that great" is hard for someone to act upon, whereas "the way you've named this test test_errorconditions means that it's hard for me to understand what specific behaviour and errors you're getting at" — for example.
Give feedback as soon as you can after the event. The more time that passes from when you spot something you think you'd like to feedback on to when you do so, the more time there is for the specifics of the situation to be forgotten by all involved. Ideally feedback should be given as soon as possible, while remembering of course to think of the situation and whether it's appropriate (and whether the person is ready to receive it). This also helps with being specific (see above).
If feedback is to be an ongoing process for useful reflection and self improvement it should ideally not be a one-off event. Aim to build a culture where feedback is given regularly and is a normal part of work rather than something unusual and unexpected. This also helps keep the feedback small and specific so as to not overwhelm the receiver by giving them too many things to focus on at a time. Two or three things to be thinking about and focussing on works well for most people.
Given to help the person grow and improve, not to make you feel better
Think about why you're giving the feedback before you go ahead and do it. Are you giving feedback to help the person, or to get something off your chest? If it's the latter then think about whether it's really going to be beneficial; it could actually have the opposite effect.
If you're receiving feedback, ask yourself the same question. Is the person giving it to you because they're trying to help you improve? Even if it's uncomfortable it may well be worth thinking more about. But there is a possibility that they are doing so to make themselves feel better — feedback is just data and does need analysis before application. If it's given more for their benefit than yours then you can choose to ignore it, don't let it get you down.
Focussed around the behaviour, not the person
Our inbuilt defence mechanisms are there to protect us, but unfortunately can result in us being closed when someone gives us some constructive feedback. There's little that the person receiving the feedback can do, especially at the time, so if you're the person giving the feedback think carefully about how you make it constructive and not critical, and focussed around the behaviour or the action, not the person. For example "you're always late to stand-up" or "your laziness is getting to me" are very personal and will not illicit a learning response from the receiver! But focussed in a different way it could be better received — "I've noticed you've arrived late to stand-up recently. Everyone not being there means we can't all share the information as a group and means conversations have to repeated. Is there anything I can do to help?". It's not guaranteed to work but gives the feedback the most chance of being taken in an open-minded and positive way.
If giving feedback in person, ask first if the person would like some feedback. Most of the time the answer will be yes and will help get them in an open frame of mind ready to receive it. It also gives them the opportunity to delay it, particularly if they're in the middle of something else and hence wouldn't really be receptive at that moment. "Would you be open to some feedback?" is likely all you need to say.
Taken as a gift
If someone gives you feedback be grateful that they've taken the time to do so. As mentioned above giving good feedback is very hard to do, so if someone has done so then they've spared time and thought specifically for you. Even if you don't agree, or feel it could have been better given, it's worth acknowledging and may help you be able to absorb and process it better if you think of it in this way.
The feedback wrap technique comes from Management 3.0 and you can read more at management30.com/practice/feedback-wraps.
Another technique which is well worth reading about is Non-violent Communication (NVC). The format is similar but slightly different, as shown by an example from that page:
[1. Observe Facts] Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table, [2. Note Feelings] I feel irritated because [3. Uncover Desires] I want more order in the rooms that we share in common. [4. Make Requests] Would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?