How to Receive Feedback

I want to document what I've learned about receiving and giving feedback


Because it's really hard for me to notice where I can improve (read: I hope you can help me to see my shortcomings and areas of improvement.

To make this email worth your time I can recommend a really good talk about feedback that you might find useful: feedback week?

Disclaimer: some notes on giving feedback #

It's quite common to hear about feedback and how important it is. There is a lot written about giving feedback like Feedback Wrap (I can't recommend) or a whole book about "Nonviolent Communication" (polish "Porozumienie bez Przemocy") that I can recommend.

It's also useful to check if the other person is interested in the feedback in the first place. Spending your time to plan and deliver good feedback will be wasted.

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"

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

Ignoring Feedback #

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

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.

The last one is about the Never Explain part from: Never Complain; 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.

Wrong #

One thing that's often forgotten by the receiver is that the feedback can be wrong. Even when the person giving the feedback has the best intentions. When receiving feedback you have to treat it like it has a 50% probability. Put a big maybe in front of it.

Another kind of wrong 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 coach or manager stopping you from doing work will only inhibit your learning.

Receiving Feedback #

Feedback is just a nice word for criticisms and it foolish to expect that it's going to be easy. Especially the hard feedback that you need. At this point, you have to learn it.

From How to Be Resilient in the Face of Harsh Criticism
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.

Cognitive Therapy tools: #

I can recommend an article by Eric Baker:
This Is How To Rewire Your Brain For Happiness: 4 Secrets From Research. Especially the "Cognitive Therapy 101" part. You can learn the foundational ideas and practices of CBT that will help you when receiving any feedback.

Frequency #

I've stumbled upon a nice analogy between feedback and models of learning (for example used in Machine Learning algorithms). It turns out that you can have not enough feedback, but also too much of it. You should pick the frequency based on the subject it's about and where you are in your life or work.

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

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

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