Feedback culture is an essential part of Bayzat’s lifecycle. Our culture rises on feedback. It is one of the critical aspects of this organization that keeps me going and engaged. I love it. It feels so natural that I cannot think of a sustainable work environment that doesn’t promote a feedback culture.
There is no one type of feedback for sure. I received good, bad, critical, humiliating, empowering, boosting, neutral, and life-changing feedback so far in my limited time in this industry. The worst of all is getting no feedback at all. As a software practitioner, I highly depend on my peer’s constructive feedback, which is why I am trying to work with great engineers. Every feedback tells something about me and my work environment.
In this blog post, I will try to explain my approach when I receive feedback. It is shaped around my journey. Your mileage may vary, so take it with a grain of salt. And any feedback is welcome, naturally.
I will not delve into which feedback is well-structured and not in this article for the sake of blog post length.
Why feedback is important
Receiving feedback shows me that:
- something I have been doing good, and it is validated by people I work with daily
- an area that I can improve on and a possible way to do it
- some behavior that might harm someone personally or some part of the business that I was not aware of
- my colleague cares enough about me initiating a truthful dialog
- my colleague trusts me
What is my process for taking feedback? Let us check different types of feedback, so we don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution here.
Receiving good feedback is easier than others. I usually thank my colleague for their trust, ask about what I could do even better, and talk about what they liked the most & what they would do differently.
Receiving negative feedback is hard. Because there is a proposal of change to the things I have been doing. As human beings, we tend to be very defensive against change, and the very first feelings can be misleading. Initial responses are crucial and hard to control; therefore, I try to be very careful.
What do I feel first? It can be anger, shame, attacked, threatened, or an assumption that I’m not treated fairly. These feelings can be very irrational. So I try to get ration into play to balance that.
Step 1: Take a deep breath
First of all, I need to be in control of my mindset. I take a breath and try to get away from those feelings. I remind myself who I am talking to. This is a colleague we have been working with for some time now. We are trying to achieve similar goals - implement business objectives while engineering a software product.
I remember whether I trust this person or not. I try to put the technical product in the front - are they giving the feedback to me personally or some decision I made some time ago? Would they undermine my value very quickly in a way that my instincts tell me so?
I get back to my personal experience and how often this has happened or the percentage of people I know that can do this, which is rare.
🚀 Some tips:
- Take a deep breath, keep immediate emotions at bay
- Remember that you trust your colleague
- Your code/product is not you, every feedback is an opportunity to get better at your craft
Step 2: Understand the feedback and the feeling that comes with it
Second, I try to understand how this feedback originated. I continue with questions - what makes them think that? But not in a threatening or questioning way. I am trying to understand the root cause, not look for openings in their reasoning. It might not be the best feedback in the world, it might not be well-structured, or there might be missing parts to their logic. But I am more interested in why they feel that way. Something must have triggered that feeling, and that is important. I have to find it before it settles in their daily thought process and builds harmful assumptions in the future.
Avoid ping-pong feedback, do not argue
I avoid giving back feedback at this phase. Because it would turn the feedback session into an arguing session, I am not trying to win here by overcoming the feedback. There is only one win - understanding the feedback and understanding if there is something I can improve.
If this phase goes longer than I anticipated, it is better to cut it off: I need to think about it and get back to you later. Giving some space allows me to think deeply about the subject, put reason more in place, and evaluate better. If I am too in-between, it is also a good idea to ask another colleague I trust deeply.
🚀 Some tips:
- Don’t get stuck with the feedback format - try to understand root cause
- Don’t give feedback back, avoid arguments
- Don’t turn it into interrogation session, keep it brief
Step 3: Self-reflection
Third, I conduct a self-reflection session based on the feedback I got. This is important to think about the change I need to make. I try to come up with actionable items that I intend to follow up on.
It is important to start with the facts: the situation, the event, and the impact. We need to lay down a solid baseline to start with. It can be something like this:
Hey, yesterday in your team’s daily meeting I joined it with your team to understand. Someone from your team suggested that we should use PHP to develop our new business intelligence platform, and you accepted the suggestion without any question. I think this is a bad decision-taking process, you should push team members to validate their proposals
This is a well-structured feedback, you might need to get this out of your colleague in the previous step. But the baseline is clear: the situation is there was a technical decision process, and someone suggested using PHP. The event is I accepted the proposal without any question. The impact is now a team of 10 engineers has to develop and maintain PHP code for the foreseeable future; the team is losing their confidence in my technical decision-making capabilities; I’m setting a bad example for future technical discussions.
Upon this clarification, I think about how I could have done it differently. What do we need for that? Maybe we don’t have a well-defined decision-making process at all; I can initiate that. I can take examples from other teams or check industry best practices. Overall, these are actions that will have long-term effects. I also need to think about immediate actions to take: cut out PHP before it’s too late.
Don’t try to make everyone happy
Aside from the example above, I might disagree with the feedback altogether. The aim is not to keep everyone happy. I remind myself: I’m not a Napolitan-style pizza with extra cheese and garlic, and I cannot make everyone happy. The important point is there something I can do to improve my reasoning, behavior, or working environment? I aim to find that. Happiness will come with it some time in the future if not today, as long as we aim for the better.
The most important motivation comes from within yourself. So whatever the outcome, it needs to come from you, not from someone else. The feedback or suggestion to resolve the situation can come from outside, but the final touch is always yours.
🚀 Some tips:
- Lay out the baseline - situation, event, impact
- Think about what could have been done differently
- Make a difference between long-term impactful actions and immediate ones
- Don’t try to make everyone happy
Step 4: Proactive communication
Lastly, I communicate the outcome. The outcome is actionable, clear, and concise.
First of all, this is a commitment to ourselves. By outlining them as action items, I put the responsibility on my shoulders which would be more effective in following them.
Second, it shows our colleagues that we value their feedback, and we are trying our best to get better.
Overall, these feedback sessions helped me grow a lot. I look at each of them as opportunities rather than incidents. This also gives me a hint about a healthy team environment:
- I need to build trust with my colleagues
- Giving feedback should be part of my daily work - good or bad. Everyone I work with should know without hesitation that we don’t give feedback when things go wrong; it is part of the work
- I need to get better at giving feedback
This is my humble effort to kickstart feedback understanding if you haven’t thought about it before, or you have a process, and you are looking for improvements. Let me know if you agree/disagree, if it is helpful for you, or what I can improve here.
For the last point, I enjoyed reading Radical Candor and listening to its respective podcasts, and they helped me tremendously. Here are some links for further reading:
- Radical Candor—Be A Kick-Ass Leader And Empower Your Team
- Radical Candor Podcast
- Radical Candor talk by Kim Scott
- A Software Engineer’s Guide to Giving Feedback that Actually Matters
And yes, images are sponsored by Midjourney.