How Good Product Managers Handle Bad Feedback
July 26, 2016

How Good Product Managers Handle Bad Feedback

by Ron Yang

I received some harsh feedback relatively early in my career as a product manager. I had worked at a SaaS company for about a year and was the first product manager on the team. We had finally landed a massive software partner — and I was excited to walk through my plan for the product integration with my CTO.

I presented my plan to quickly launch the first version of the integration in less than two weeks. Unfortunately, my CTO was not quite as excited as I was.

He sat back in his chair and flatly gave his response: “There is no way that this plan can work.” My instinct was to immediately fight for my plan. I was shocked and ready to argue for why it would work.

However, before I responded, I decided to take a step back and ask a few follow-up questions about why he thought it was impossible. He explained that the basic integration my plan would deliver was too bare-boned. I had focused on the minimal integration requirements and development team effort — but did not consider the overall product experience or the impact on the team. It would likely cause real problems in the near future.

As I listened to him tear my plan apart, I realized that he was right. There was no way that we could implement the integration as it was laid out. I was glad that I had waited to listen before responding defensively.

From this experience, I learned the importance of critical feedback for product managers. I learned that seeking out feedback and asking questions to fully understand a colleague’s perspective before giving your response is the only way to operate.

Here is why product managers should embrace tough feedback — and take the time to listen and absorb before responding:

Clarify issues Attentive listening will give you an opportunity to identify and focus on the most important points, as well as notice any recurring themes. And surprisingly often you will find that the person did not understand exactly what you were suggesting. Take notes to capture details. This simple approach can help you to better explain your thinking when you are ready to respond — and to anticipate questions next time.

Continue learning Great product managers see negative feedback as an opportunity for continued learning. Real gains come when you make the effort to recognize and analyze how and where you missed the mark — and implement that feedback into your work. Make time for self-analysis and distill key points from recent critiques. Use those learnings to avoid future confusion.

Build relationships By showing colleagues that you are willing to truly listen to and consider their point of view, you help build more lasting relationships with individuals across the organization. Demonstrating respect for other points of view will help when you inevitably have to make tough calls later on that may disappoint or frustrate key colleagues and the broader team.

Improve performance Too many people conflate professional critique with personal criticism. This is only natural — anything that points out areas for improvement can feel personal. But being open to critical feedback will lead to improved performance as a product manager. Just like your product, your professional development will benefit from continuous and quick iteration. Take in meaningful feedback and quickly implement it.

Great product managers take all feedback — good or bad — as an opportunity to grow their skills.

In my case, I learned the importance of getting key team members involved at the beginning of a project — instead of waiting until the end and receiving bad feedback.

We all need feedback, but product managers benefit from it more than anyone else. They know that both their professional performance and their products are enhanced by open communications and a diversity of thoughts.

How do you incorporate feedback into your work?

Ron Yang

Ron Yang

Ron builds lovable products. He was the vice president of product management and UX at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Ron has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship and leading product teams. Previously, Ron founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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