This is a repost of something I wrote up on Linkedin a few days ago
As I write this, the first episode of Cher Jones' new series “Creator Collabs” has just finished. The full title was, “How To Receive Feedback Even When it HURTS | New #CreatorCollabs Series,” and Reena Friedman Watts as the first guest for this new series.
I have to say that the conversation was excellent. Sometimes it can be very hard to know whether your feedback is good, useful, constructive, harsh, not useful, or even down right painful. And I genuinely believe that the conversation between Cher and Reena was both constructive, informative, and incredibly useful. Both the information shared by the hosts and the information shared in the comments was pure gold.
If you can, I would recommend taking a look back at the recorded video. I believe this link should work
check back, as I’ll fix this if the link doesn’t work
Advice From the Community
Here’s a small sample of the advice that I got from people in the comments and from the hosts:
be aware of culture across countries
We are in a more globally connected world, and we can find ourselves working with people from different cultures to our own. With those differing cultures come different expectations of how to communicate. Some cultures value blunt feedback, whereas other prefer to have a slightly more indirect and fluffy (for want of a better phrase) feedback.
know who is giving the feedback
You may not necessarily want a plumber to be providing feedback on your live stream about college level physics. Reading that back, it feels very gatekeepery but that isn’t my aim. The point is that you should be looking for feedback and advice from people who are relevant to the thing that you are doing. Seek out peers who have experience with the thing you are doing, or those who are experts and solicit that feedback.
ask for feedback. Otherwise you don’t know where you’re at
It is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of not soliciting the feedback. Either because you might feel like it would be causing a nuisance for the person you are asking, or because you might be afraid of what they might say. But if you don’t ask for feedback, then you may never get it.
avoid the sh*t sandwich
When talking about how to give feedback, Cher talked about the sh*t sandwich (two layers of positivity with a layer of feedback between them) and how …well, useless it is. It really is useless because you focus your energies on the outer layers whilst not really focusing on the important bit: the feedback. Also, the person that you’re feeding back to can be blinded by the positivity and completely ignore what you’re trying to get at.
My Own Advice
During the conversation, Cher had mentioned that some of the advice and information that I was putting in the comments would make for a good blog post. So here are some of the points that I raised, each with a few sentences expanding on the point I was hoping to make:
Empathy! Yes! This is one of the most important things for any context.
I see a lack of both empathy and sympathy all the time in the software development space.
in fact, it’s something I’ve written about in the past
It’s always important to think about how your words and actions are likely to affect another person before you say or do them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think, “if I were that person, how might I react to what I’m about to say?” Obviously, you’re not that person and you don’t know their story (something I’ll come back to in a moment), so you can’t say for sure how they’ll react. But how would you react if someone you respected used those words?
It’s not specific to being a creator online, but I have weekly check ins with my colleagues, reports, employees, mentees and apprentices. We set aside 15-30 minutes for a completely open and honest conversation.
I’ve been trying this out for a while now, and picked it up from a book called “Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager” by Michael Lopp. In the book Lopp recommends having a weekly check in with your direct reports, and having it as a “shoot the breeze” style conversation. When we’re relaxed, we tend to open up about what’s on our minds; and by giving someone a space to open up and be honest with you, you’ll give them that opportunity to either ask for feedback or give you feedback.
Setting the expectation of how you can be approached with feedback, and (more importantly) sticking to the way that feedback can be put across is a must, too.
You need to allow the person that you’re feeding back to (or the person you are requesting feedback from) know what the rules are of this conversation. If you are open to them being harsh, let them know. If you want them to only provide constructive feedback, let them know. If you need them to know about your story, let them know.
Just like with all other interactions, everyone involved is setting the rules for what can be discussed and how it can be discussed.
But the most important part is sticking to those rules. It can sometimes be very easy, and super tempting, to start discussing something which wasn’t agreed on, to take the conversation in a different direction, or to use language which wasn’t agreed on. Once you know the rules of engagement, stick to them.
accepting that you don’t know someone’s story up to that point is super important. Just because I THINK that something is the case, doesn’t make it true
This goes all the way back to empathy and sympathy. If I’m giving feedback on something that a peer or colleague has created, I need to try and think about the constraints that they were under at the time.
Let’s say that they had live streamed and used the webcam built into their laptop (a perfectly legitimate thing to do), but the video quality wasn’t as good as it could have been. I don’t know whether they had a “better” (the quotes here are very intentional) camera to hand or not. Maybe they were having a tough day, and their other camera just wasn’t playing ball. Maybe the setup for the camera was too complex and they didn’t need that complexity today.
You don’t know their story. Acknowledge that, and approach them with that in mind.
"If you ain’t where you’re at, then you’re no place," Col. Sherman T Potter. And if you don’t ask about where you’re at, how will you know.
I love throwing this quote out there because it’s so true. You need to know where you are at before you can go to where you want to be. And the old adage of, “if you don’t ask, you wont get,” fits here; because you might not get the feedback if you don’t ask for it.
Personal bandwidth is a real thing. Figuring out how much you can realistically give, and how much you can realistically take right now is one of the toughest lessons I had to learn
When offering feedback or advice, it’s important to know what your personal bandwidth is. What do you have the time and ability to realistically help someone with? If you only have 30 minutes of availability, make that obvious to the person. They need to understand that you are happy to help, but can only give so much right now.
Maybe giving advice and feedback in an asynchronous way (i.e. over email or a private message) would work better for you, because you don’t have the time to go into the minutiae of what you want to get across. If so, let them know and let them know how they can expect to hear from you.
And on the flip side, if someone is willing to offer their time to help you, be very aware that they are likely doing this for free. Respect that time, be on time, and willing to take in what they are sharing.
Feedback can be hash, as long as it is constructive. Give me advice on what I can do to be better or things I can look into to improve, and I’ll take the lumps.
But the social contract needs to be there to allow the feedback to be harsh. If the person you’re giving feedback to doesn’t want harsh, then don’t be harsh. It’s important to know the difference between someone offering legitimate feedback which you can work with, and someone who is intentionally aiming to hurt you. There’s a world of difference, and you can legitimately ignore the haters.
I feel like this one speaks for itself. It also goes back to my point about setting expectations on how the conversation can go and sticking to them.
We have codes of conduct in the software development space. And we ask people who are interacting, providing feedback, and taking part to adhere to them.
Codes of conduct are great thing. They allow everyone in a particular conversation (at a conference, during a webinar, etc.) to set expectations for the behaviour of all other participants. They’re very much like a social contract, and you should always aim to adhere to them, if not go above and beyond what they expect fo you.
As an example, I have a code of conduct for each of my podcasts. I expect guests, the community of listeners, and anyone who interacts with the shows to behave a certain way. Here’s a link to the cods of conduct that I use for one of my podcasts.
I also have one for my company, and I expect all employees, clients, and suppliers to adhere to.
One of the points which came up a lot was actively soliciting feedback. As an ex-introvert (I’ve pushed myself to being an extroverted introvert, but have the occasional relapse), I find it really hard to ask for feedback. I often feel like it’s exposing myself to the potential ire of The Internet as a whole. But you don’t need to ask everyone for feedback, just a select few people.
So my idea is this:
What about a weekly/fortnightly feedback log? "Today I asked Person-A for feedback on Project-X. They said that I should take a look at Thing-Y. I took a look and learned the following things…"
And it could work the other way too. "Today Person-A asked me for feedback on Project-X. I told them about Thing-Y, and said the following things…"
That we can give ourselves feedback on the way we give and take feedback. We can look at the language and tone we used; the way our feedback was received (or our request was handled); and we can keep notes of the things that we’ve learned - which can be handy for passing on to other people.
Why not give that a shot?