The Value of Trivial Micro-Feedback

Splitting anything into bite-sized portions makes a lot of sense.

We are used to segmenting our lives into ever thinner slices of activity. Setting and achieving as many manageable micro-goals as possible every day lies at the heart of productivity. 

There are, however, a few tasks which loom so large in our heads that we feel that they are impossible to reduce down as a part of our daily routine. The dreaded annual or quarterly appraisal is one such task that neither appraiser nor appraised are keen to tackle. Appraisers risk unearthing issues that have long been buried, and the appraised are so focused on a past that may no longer be relevant to their current situation. Is giving someone feedback on something that happened three months ago really that useful to either party?

If you need to "tick a box" in your employee engagement policy, regular appraisals can feel more like a corporate chore. If you care more about making a difference to your colleagues (and this doesn't necessarily need to be a manager-employee relationship), then a "tick the box" approach to feedback is the last thing that would be on your mind.

Fostering a culture of "micro-feedback" is essential if an organisation is going to grow.

For me, micro feedback is more than a "well done and a pat on the back". It suggests real, actionable steps to improve in a given situation, but comes from a place of "by the way, I thought you'd like to know" rather than "listen to me, you've got it all wrong." If there is a preachy tone, then people will switch off the moment that you beckon them to one side. If, however, you come at it from the point of wanting to learn and improve together, it is far easier to take on board.

Somehow, these crumbs of feedback feel less "weighty" than a formal appraisal, and their immediate nature is likely to make more of a difference. Micro-feedback needn't be a one-way communication, and it is in discussing the relevant issues we are able to understand each other all the better.

"Well done" is always a welcome sentiment, but if it is left like that, there are questions hanging in the air…. How did I make a difference to you? Would you have done it any differently? What could I do differently next time? It doesn't take so much effort to give a quick hint at the nuances behind your well done, and you are then truly adding value to your relationships. 

When the sentiment is positive, micro-feedback is a nice-to-have, but when the feedback is more negative, then it is essential. This is the point when too many managers close the door, giving micro-feedback on why you are dissatisfied is often avoided as people see it as being too trivial to mention. In actual fact, the most powerful feedback that you can get is of the trivial (but constructive) nature, before it flares into something much bigger. Do take the time to spell out the details - personal development is always about small steps.

We all want to improve in our lives. If people see us as someone who takes feedback well, they will be happier to give it ever more often. If there is one message that you take away from this blog, I hope that it would be this.

Sometimes, the most powerful feedback is the "trivial" feedback - if you receive it often enough, in the right spirit and from the right people.