Some work is easy to criticize. We all use Facebook so we feel comfortable critiquing the product. We read the press and see ads so we feel comfortable critiquing our comms and marketing teams. But when people describe how the latest product update made them want to vomit up their lunch, they may be forgetting that engineers are humans with feelings. When they decry the latest news article they may not recognize the expertise required to avoid a much worse outcome.
I certainly don’t discourage feedback. And nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem. Getting bug reports and understanding the likely reaction of our users is critical to our ability to launch quality products. Consumers have substantially less sympathy for our feelings. But before you provide feedback you should ask yourself: what is my goal? If the answer is to influence decision making for the good of Facebook then you are on the right track. If it is to make yourself feel better then it is best to keep it to yourself.
I propose two goals when providing critical feedback:
- ensure your concern is well understood and not being overlooked accidentally
- ensure you understand why your concern isn’t being addressed
That’s it. After that you just have to trust that the processes that have built this company will continue to work, now with your contribution factored in.
When reasonable people understand one another and still fundamentally disagree they are unlikely to sway opinion further. The more likely outcome is that it tends to get personal. Unfortunately, too much of the feedback I read internally falls into this latter category.
Here are some specific behaviors to avoid and how to improve them:
Avoid emotionally charged statements without substance like “this sucks”
or “I hate this.” These express negativity without any opportunity for
Instead, ask questions. “Why did we choose to do it this way?” or “I use the product like X, how do we think about that use case in this design?” If the team has a good answer then you will feel better. If they don’t then you may have given them a valuable new perspective. Don’t stop after the first answer, either, keep asking questions to either expose your point of view or learn theirs. But really listen to every response. If you aren’t open to new perspectives you can’t hope for them to be either.
Avoid repeating questions. If a team has taken the time to answer a
question at length it is rude to insist they do it again for you. Teams forced
to address something repeatedly will tend to disengage over time which is self
Instead take the time to scroll and search before asking your question. If you are told that it was already answered, consider removing your post after getting a link.
Avoid piling on with comments like “+1” or “me too!” Saying “I know this
has already been discussed to death, but…” is worse than repeating a question
because you know you aren’t saying anything new but are joining the mob
anyways. The goal of this kind of interaction isn’t to help someone better
understand the concern.
Instead try to add new information to the discussion or be content to use reactions to express your support. If you want to ensure the team understands concerns aren’t isolated incidents, then ask them something like “how many users do you think will be affected” so you can see whether they already know or not.
Avoid nagging. Some people are so negative about a product that they are
hyperactive in feedback groups and this can ultimately erode their
Instead think positively and pick your battles. If you agree with the goal but disagree with the implementation, offer alternative suggestions. Focus on the areas you think are most critical to fix rather than trying the shotgun approach.
Avoid making it all about you with comments like “This is how I use the
product. I’ll probably switch to Google+ or MySpace after this change.”
Remember, we all love these products but we don’t just build it for ourselves.
If you can’t think of the larger perspective then you aren’t really doing the
best thing for our company.
Instead be honest with yourself about how serious of a problem you think the change is for yourself and for our users. Is it really the end of the world? Temper your feedback accordingly.
Failing to modify your approach may lead the people you want to influence into an entrenched defensive position. Your interests on building great products are probably aligned but that can be hard to see if a debate devolves into the personal. Whatever product is being discussed won’t be the last and we need to maintain relationships that can sustain across years. You won’t like every decision we make. I know I don’t. But I trust that our process and people will guide us towards better outcomes over time.
(written in 2010, relevant in 2020)