How to Give and Receive feedback

Everything I know about feedback

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
– Richard P. Feynman

Part one: Receiving feedback #

TLDR; How do you receive feedback? #

Say "Thank you".
How to make a sandwich – Dan North at 30:07

Ignoring Feedback #

It may be the case that we're better off without getting the feedback. Seriously. Read New Insights into Self-Insight: More May Not Be Better.

It can be wrong #

One thing that's often forgotten by the receiver is that the feedback can be wrong. The person giving feedback can have the best intentions, but everyone makes mistakes. When receiving feedback, you have to assign it some probability. Put a big MAYBE in front of it.

Another kind of bad feedback is the one that doesn't help. For example, The Inner Game: Why Trying Too Hard Can Be Counterproductive on Farnam Street. There are situations when detailed feedback on time makes it harder for people to learn. If the activity itself gives you feedback, then the coach or manager stopping you from doing work will only inhibit your learning.

Don't feed the trolls. #

In Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon explains:

The first step in evaluating feedback is sizing up who it comes from. You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do. Be extra wary of feedback from anybody who falls outside of that circle.

A troll is a person who isn't interested in improving your work, only provoking you with hateful, aggressive, or upsetting talk. You will gain nothing by engaging those people. Don't feed them, and they'll usually go away.

And again by Austin:

Do you have a troll problem? Use the BLOCK button on social media sites. Delete nasty comments. My wife is fond of saying, "If someone took a dump in your living room, you wouldn't let it sit there, would you?" Nasty comments are the same—they should be scooped up and thrown in the trash.

Some other rules from When It's OK to Ignore Feedback by Dorie Clark

  1. When it's vague.
  2. When it's exactly what you're going for.
  3. When it's only one person's opinion.
  4. When it's ad hominem.
  5. When it comes from a dubious source.

Never Explain #

Explaining yourself is essentially an attempt to seek another's approval. It shows you're stung that they've withdrawn that approval, and desirous of getting it back.
Never Complain; Never Explain by Brett and Kate McKay

Don't take advice. #

** "Don't take advice."**
I remember a CEO telling me this once when I told him some people liked the new corporate meeting and some people didn't. I looked at him. Don't take advice? Really?
"You've done your research, you own the meeting, you don't have to worry what anyone thinks," he said. "You get to decide. And remember that all advice conflicts. You can twist advice any which way to make any point you want. Have you heard that ninety-seven percent of lung cancer patients are smokers and ninety-seven percent of smokers never get lung cancer?"
I stared at him blankly.
I didn't know if that was true, but my brain was lighting up just thinking about it. He was challenging me.
He always did.
"You make up your own mind. My advice is to become creatively indifferent to all advice. Hear it, but decide what to do yourself." He paused and then said it one more time.
"Don't take advice."
The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha

But, it may be true #

It's tough to know yourself, and it turns out that asking people around you is really useful.

Sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work have shown that people's coworkers are better than they are at recognizing how their personality will affect their job performance.
People Don't Actually Know Themselves Very Well by Adam Grant

Even if you feel totally crushed, thank your colleagues and the instructor. Phrases like, "Thanks, I'll think about all this," or "I appreciate the input," encourage people to keep helping you in the future.
How to Survive a Critique: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback by Karen Cheng

How do you deal with it? #

Feedback is just a nice word for criticism. You can't expect that it will be easy—especially the hard feedback. But, there is hope.

From How to Be Resilient in the Face of Harsh Criticism by Joseph Grenny:

My hunch was that those who received such high-octane criticisms were likely to feel worse than those who received gentler comments. But, surprisingly, people who received less severe comments reported being just as overwhelmed and upset.

Can I recommend reading This Is How To Rewire Your Brain For Happiness: 4 Secrets From Research by Erik Barker for a gentle introduction to the "Cognitive Therapy 101". It can help you be a happier person and better deal with criticism at the same time.

Frequency #

I've stumbled upon an excellent analogy between feedback and learning models (for example, used in Machine Learning algorithms) relevant to feedback. It turns out that you can have too much feedback.

So, tying this all together, here's what I'm taking away from this tortured metaphor:

  1. Too little feedback is bad (you'll never find an optimal solution)
  2. Too much feedback is bad (you'll move slowly and get stuck in local minima)
  3. It's best to vary the amount of feedback (according to the above strategies)
    from: The perils of constant feedback

Part two: Giving feedback #


  1. Are they interested in your help?
  2. Can you use appreciation?
  3. Watch How to make a sandwich by Dan North.

Unwanted Foreign Aid #

Are the people you are aiming to help interested in your help? If not, you may be providing what my friend Heidi Helfand calls "unwanted foreign aid."

Watch "Unwanted Foreign Aid - JOSHUA KERIEVSKY"—it's 2 minutes long.

Can you use appreciation? #

I can recommend a great article about feedback on Farnam Street: How to Provide Great Feedback When You're Not In Charge

There are at least three different kinds of feedback that may be appropriate in a given situation:

  1. APPRECIATION is expression of gratitude or approval of another's effort. It is an expression of emotion, designed to meet an emotional need.
  2. ADVICE (or COACHING) consists of suggestions about particular behavior that should be repeated or changed. It focuses on the performance, rather than judging the person.
  3. EVALUATION is ranking the subject's performance in relation to that of others or against an explicit or implicit set of standards.

The habit you want to develop is to know your purposes when you offer feedback, and to make your comments in a form appropriate to accomplishing that purpose.

Getting It Done: How to Lead When You're Not in Charge by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp

Give feedback #

The most useful feedback method I know is Situation Behavior Impact (SBI) method. You can learn about it (among other methods) in How to make a sandwich by Dan North.

Other methods #

I would warn against those as they are harder to do in practice. However, I can still recommend Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg (polish "Porozumienie bez Przemocy") and Feedback Wrap.

Avoid #

Resources #

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