Let people know when they’re overdoing it

When someone has asked you to provide feedback, it’s easy to provide constructive feedback–what could be improved. Feedback to help them consider alternatives to achieve their goals. And it’s easy to provide praise–what was good.

Sometimes it’s the feedback beyond these two types that can be the most helpful. Occasionally I see the opportunity to possibly lighten someone’s load. In other words, make their life easier. In this case, what they created was good, possibly even great, but it’s great in terms of a standard that is much higher than what is probably necessary for a given situation. As a result, it may have taken substantial effort beyond what could have been good work. I consider this a possibility of overdoing it.

For example, I was recently reviewing some teaching materials and I found some truly compelling visual appeal in the materials. But, some of that appeal, while compelling, was beyond sufficient and might be causing undue stress for the person creating the materials. In this case, ditching some visual appeal would be superior to being discouraged form ever teach again.

Overdoing can be harmful for these reasons:

  • What they’ve done in the past may become a baseline for what they think their standard should be going forward. This becomes a great burden to achieve in every similar situation in the future. As a result, they may be discouraged in the future. For example, if I pore over every blog post I write ten times to try to find the perfect words, I might be discouraged from ever sharing a blog post with you.
  • Sometimes, overdoing it can lead to a struggle for perfection, and the work can lose it’s natural human nature and seem fake to others. For example, while it’s a good idea not to say “ah” or “um” at the start of every sentence when speaking, if you try to eliminate every “ah” “um” you can wind up sounding robotic.

But beware that it may only be your own opinion that they’ve overdone it. Perhaps you would find the extra effort challenging and to them, perhaps it’s not a burden. Be wary of projecting your own insecurities upon them as it can cause them harm. The best way to avoid this is to be selective in giving this type of feedback and be aware of the potential harm it can cause. And, to be safe, here are some rules to help you out when giving this type of feedback:

  • Always preface your advice with a statement of how great you think the work is, that your feedback is not about improving the work, that you see an opportunity to make their life easier.
  • Always remind them they have the choice to ignore your advice.
  • Always preface the conditions under which they should follow through on your advice: if the effort necessary to go above and beyond is substantial enough that it is a burden they are already aware of. And if they also concur that something less would still be sufficient. And if they feel the burden might discourage them in the future. Under these conditions it makes sense to consider the advice.
  • Be mindful that sufficient is relative to a standard. That standard has to be the other person’s goals, not your own. That means, make sure you understand what they’re trying to accomplish. Otherwise, how can you possibly know what is sufficient versus overdone? And, furthermore, you really have no business giving any type of feedback if you don’t know the other person’s goals.
  • Never tell someone that they’re overdoing it without specifics, this can be disastrous as they have no idea what you mean and may doubt everything about their work, even the things they aren’t overdoing. Be situational and objective in all of your feedback. Give specific descriptions of what aspect of the work is POTENTIALLY overdoing it and why. And give alternatives that are sufficient that should be less involved. Often when someone has overdone it, simply scaling back part of the work is sufficient.
    • In the above situation with teaching materials, I included my specific rational for the feedback: “I would rather see less visual appeal in the future, than find out you were discouraged to ever teach again.”
  • Your specific descriptions become the basis for them to accept or reject your feedback, thus mitigating most of the possibility that you might cause harm in your feedback.
  • Ultimately, make sure your feedback doesn’t come across as the word of God.