Actionable feedback prompts the recipient to take an action outside the framework of the conversation, but most feedback appearing to be actionable is in fact non-actionable. Let’s look at some examples and analyze why they do not warrant any action by the recipient.
1. “This is a really great article, but I think it could use some more examples!”
The problem with this one is “I think.” Everyone has an opinion. Replace “I think” with “I know” and you have something actionable. The action is to add more examples to the article, but the writer is unlikely to do this unless the feedback is more forceful.
2. “I really enjoy your photography.”
Completely worthless. I am getting to the point where I just press the delete button on comments like this. Obviously, any praise besides “keep it up” is basically non-actionable, but at least give me specific feedback rather than wasting my time. “I enjoy your photographs of (flowers | sunsets | raindrops | people) because of their (color | perspective | uniqueness | emotions)” is better.
3. “Tweet This is a good plugin, but I’d like to see integration with Tumblr.”
Again, this one applies to the commenter only so it is basically worthless. Replace “I’d like to see” with “it should have” or “I will not use it until it has” and you will have something actionable.
4. “I hope you get well soon!”
This also does nothing because hoping is ineffective and does not provoke action. “You should take a zinc supplement” would be better.
5. “Have you considered changing your religion?”
While the may look majorly actionable, in fact it only prompts a yes or no response with no action. Feedback like “Your religion sucks because *some reason*” would be more likely to provoke an action.
6. “Could you take less for this item?”
This could also be answered with a no or simply ignored. It would be better to offer a specific amount, because then you are showing initiative.
7. “You are a moron!”
This kind of feedback is useless. If it’s true, it’s a statement of fact, which is never actionable. If it’s false, it’s a lie, which is also non-actionable.
8. “There is no point in arguing with someone like you.”
People who write this type of comment have superiority complexes and are trying to prove their time is more valuable than yours. But their very response proves that they are not above you. Completely non-actionable.
9. “What’s your phone number and a good time to call you?”
This is an edge case, but it’s actually non-actionable because the recipient stays in the frame of the conversation without taking action (i.e. calling you) outside the conversation. The recipient is liable to respond with his phone number but not answer your call. An actionable message would in fact be “My phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX―please call me at 9pm.” This way, you put the burden of action on the recipient rather than yourself.
10. “If you don’t log in within 72 hours, your account will be deleted!”
If the user is concerned about his account being deleted, he will certainly log in anyway, and if he isn’t, he may as well not even receive this message, because he won’t visit your site again. Completely non-actionable.
While you may think providing actionable feedback is best, there are many times when you are talking to someone unpleasant and want to end the conversation. In this case, it’s better to provide non-actionable feedback. If the recipient keeps responding to your non-actionable feedback, you will sense his desperation. Desperate people are never good friends or business contacts, so you should cut them out of your life.
Here is a hypothetical conversation with a desperate person:
Blue: How would you like to establish an affiliate partnership between our websites?
Red: Your blog has potential, but I’m really not interested in linking to it.
Realistically, the conversation should end here, but Blue is desperate and continues despite the obvious futility.
Blue: Are you sure? How about if I link to you only and you pay me?
Red: Like I said on my contact page, I don’t accept solicitations nor affiliate with websites that get no traffic.
Blue is becoming very anxious―the more he is rejected the more he pushes forward. He thinks he’s persevering, but in fact he’s just being a needy nuisance.
Blue: But you should see my traffic logs! My site gets over 100 visitors this month!
Red: I do offer consulting to increase your traffic. 100 visitors per month is nothing.
Red has made a serious mistake―he should have terminated the conversation right here. Blue has continuously provided desperate, non-actionable feedback, so this would have been a perfect time to stop replying.
Blue: How much do you charge?
Red: $100 an hour, $100 minimum.
Blue: That’s ridiculous! $100 for some measly consulting work that should only take you twenty minutes? What kind of consultant are you anyway? A scam artist, that’s what!
Red: I can assure you that my clients would say otherwise. Many of them are very successful and place a high value on my services.
Blue has gained the upper hand, and Red has succumbed to an energy vampire. Red is now on the defensive.
Blue: I don’t care what you are, I’m reporting you to *some agency* for trying to defraud me.
Red: I’m sure we can work this out without the authorities.
Blue: I’ll tell you what. If you help me to market *new worthless service*, I’ll overlook this and allow you to continue your business.
This is the price for taking non-actionable feedback seriously. Blue is a desperate, passive-aggressive wimp who can only resort to begging and threats. Red is a person who lets wimps take advantage of him. Both are losers, but both could become winners by harnessing the power of non-actionable feedback.
At the start of the conversation, Red should have said “I’ll look into your blog and get back to you.” With one non-actionable reply, Red could have avoided conversation for weeks, but instead, he engaged the sender in a pointless argument which ended in self-capitulation. Ridiculous, but stuff like this happens every day.