Monday, November 18, 2013

Don't Roll Your Eyes

"[John] Gottman has proven something remarkable.  If he analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with 95 percent accuracy whether that couple will still be married fifteen years later."  - Malcom Gladwell, Blink.

How does he do it?  By looking at the microexpressions on their faces while they have meaningful communication.  Each expression conveys an emotion or attitude.  The "Four Horsemen" of negative emotion are: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt.  But within those four, the king is contempt.  Contempt is the single strongest indication that a marriage is in trouble.

A disagreement, even criticism, can be discussed rationally and worked through.  But contempt is putting the other person on a lower plane than you.  It is immediately discounting what they are saying for no other reason than because you feel superior to them.  That is detrimental.

So what is the facial expression that indicates contempt?  You guessed it: eye-rolling.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

How to Ask for Feedback... or Any Favor

I don't remember much about 7th grade. But I do remember one time when I asked some of my classmates to help me fold sheets of paper to be passed to the rest of the class. I offered [what I considered] a tip as to how to do it more efficiently.  But the response I got was, "When you ask someone do to you a favor, don't then ask them to do it faster."

Now, when we ask someone to give us feedback, we're really asking them to do us a favor. We want to improve whatever it is we're asking for feedback on and thus by providing it, they are helping us. So if they are already going to this effort to help us, we really shouldn't ask more from them than necessary. In fact, we should make it as easy as possible for them to help us.

Probably the most common mechanism for providing feedback today is the survey. Someone buys a product, uses a service, attends a class, etc and then fills out a feedback survey about it.

We can see the same thing with software and websites. There is often a form or something that vendors use to gauge the user experience of their digital product. I posit that such a mechanism tries the patience and goodwill of users. It makes them have to go out of their way - do extra work - to do a favor for the vendor. So some vendors offer small rewards for filling out these surveys, in recognition of this fact.

But I think we can do better. Consider this juvenile, but brilliant, example:

Why do I say this is brilliant? It takes something the user has to do anyway, and turns it into a feedback mechanism. The user doesn't have to do any extra work or go out of his way at all. He just does his normal business (heh) and has no choice but to provide feedback in the process. 

I just checked and apparently it's no longer there, but Skype used to be a good example of this. You would make a call (over the internet) and when the call was over, you would have to close the 'call' window. But the only way to close it was to click a button that gave feedback on the quality of the call. Now, you have to close that window anyway. So it's no extra work for me to provide feedback while I do it. It's not intrusive. It's convenient.

This is the kind of mechanism we should be using more with software. Users are using it anyway, why not build in ways to gather feedback that don't disrupt their workflow?

I, personally, am more than happy to provide feedback to software companies if that process doesn't get in my way. For example, I always check the 'send anonymous usage statistics to the vendor' box when I install a program. I'm happy to help in making the software better, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me.

Granted, we may not be able to do this for every kind of feedback. But I feel there is a huge amount of data that we are missing out on because we just make it too hard for people to give it to us. We could be making our products and services a whole lot better... we just have to be a little creative in how we ask for feedback.