Giving and accepting feedback are skills that need practice. Both are equally important. When we are in a team, how we deliver our thoughts and how we take others’ suggestions can build or break our team.  

Here is a short story of Nazanin Delam, Senior Software Engineer at Netflix. She hosted an online meetup on the topic of ‘What Startups can Learn from Netflix’s Culture’. There’s a lot to learn from Netflix and one thing is their Feedback Culture. Most companies (conventional or unconventional) don’t get this right.

This blog tells the story of when Nazanin received feedback from one of her colleagues on her first project, what her reaction was and what she did to improve.

Nazanin (Naz) lives in California, USA.

After 4 months of hard work on her first project, she completed it and sent an announcement email to all her colleagues, informing them about her success. Soon her mailbox started flooding with appreciation emails.

As she was packing her stuff to go home and celebrate was when she got a new notification in her inbox. It was a 3 paragraph long email from one of her colleagues.

It consisted of critical feedback on different aspects of her project. One of the points they highlighted was that she needed improvement in her written communication skills.

Naz got worried and anxious. Reading the message at first, she couldn’t understand and thought to herself: “I worked really hard on this project, what about all the great work?”

She kept overthinking about the feedback and didn’t want to celebrate anymore.

At that moment she had 2 options:

  1. Ignore the feedback and get on with her regular life
  2. Analyse what her colleague was saying and find value in it... See how she could get better in her work through the feedback.

Have you experienced this kind of situation in your workplace? What did you do? (comment below)

Here is what Naz did:

Naz chose to analyse the feedback and see what was needed to improve herself.

She started by asking herself questions like:

  • What did I do well?
  • What needs more attention?
  • Where did I go wrong?

The next step was to ask the people she trusted and felt safe around. Talking to people whom you trust is very important to get the fear of feedback out of your mind (more on this later).

Before we talk about further steps that Naz took, let’s discuss what exactly is the fear and what we can do to overcome it.

The Fear of Feedback

We human beings have a natural tendency of becoming defensive when we listen to anything negative about ourselves.

This defence mechanism is actually the fear we have deep inside. The fear of people seeing our ‘bad side’. We don’t want to hear about our imperfections from others. We simply want to stay in our comfort zone, happy with our beliefs, doing what we (think we) do best.

Have you ever wondered that giving negative feedback takes more time than giving a positive one?

When time is money, nobody wants to spend it on giving someone constructive feedback. Who has the time to analyse your work and give you critical feedback?

Well...What if we changed the way we perceive feedback?

Photo by ZSun Fu on Unsplash

Flip the coin

Let’s try and visualise. Step into Naz’s shoes for a minute.

Think how much time the person took to write the 3 paragraph long email explaining to you how to improve yourself?

Now think of the person who reads your work and even after seeing some error just congratulated you.

Does that mean the person who gave you critical feedback doesn’t like you or was trying to put you down?

Here’s where we should shift our mindset.

Think of feedback as a sign of value. The person giving you feedback truly values you and genuinely wants you to improve in your work. That is why they are investing their time in you.

Keep an open mind and be more empathetic. Try to see where the other person is coming from. You won’t 100% agree to what they are saying, but listening does not mean you have to agree with them.

Feedbacks are not facts, they are the perspective of others.

The fear of feedback prevents us from listening to feedback. Our facial expressions and body language changes when we listen to negative feedback. We no longer are accepting of what others say.

This reaction becomes one of the reasons to destroy our professional career. We stay the way we are and don’t want to grow. Not listening to feedback is our loss.

How can we overcome this fear?

The Path to Accepting Feedback

This path can be challenging when you don’t have a curious and open mind.

There is a Spanish proverb that goes-

“A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will."

The path to accepting feedback is an endless one. The more you grow in life, the more accepting you will have to be.

Every change starts within.

When we start training our minds to question ourselves and be curious about everything around and within us, we start to become more open and accepting of answers from others.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Start with internal feedback

As we mentioned before, Naz started by asking herself questions.

How can you implement this?

Start with questioning yourself. Analyse your own work.

Naz made an excel sheet and updates it weekly. She’s named it the ‘Self Assessment Sheet’.

Naz’s Self Assessment Sheet

She wrote questions that helped her critically analyse her work. This way she understood her shortcomings even before anyone pointed them out to her.

Being analytical and critical with yourself, helps you accept feedback from others.You start questioning; how can I improve? Where did I go wrong? What could I have done better?

When you start asking questions, you start to look for answers. That’s when you would want to reach out to people who know you.

If you are an extrovert, there must be a lot of people who know you.

Talk to the ones whom you trust and feel safe around.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Create a feedback loop

Naz started by asking people who knew her personally and with whom she felt comfortable sharing her thoughts.

How can you do this?

  • Schedule casual meetings with people to ask questions about yourself and your work.
  • Allow them to judge you.
  • When you give them space to critically think about your questions and be open about their opinions, you will benefit from it.

Keep in mind:

  • Don’t judge yourself during this activity.
  • Be a listener and take notes.
  • Avoid commenting or justifying what they are saying about you.
  • Remember, those are their opinions about you. They are not facts.
  • At the end of the session thank them for their time and effort invested in you.

Tip- Be conscious of your facial expressions. Always keep a smile on your face when taking feedback.

Broaden the loop

As you start getting more confident about yourself and more accepting of receiving feedback, start contacting other people. Ask your colleagues what they thought about your presentation, their thoughts on how you can improve.

Naz scheduled coffee sessions with her colleagues to keep their meeting informal.

Informal meetings help both you and your colleague to be more open and put down your guards.

Having a friendly conversation will result in a detailed and in-depth discussion. The other person becomes comfortable to share their opinions which is exactly what you need!

Casually ask for their opinions in the form of informal questions. Make sure to note down their points. These will only work when you start putting them into actionable steps.

After all, you are taking these feedbacks to improve yourself.

Finally, when you have built up enough courage:  

  • Schedule regular 1 on 1 feedback sessions with your manager.
  • Prepare a set of questions you will ask them.
  • Share these questions and your self-assessment sheet prior to your meeting so that your manager can fill their feedback in the sheet.

Note- Don’t expect to get answers right away. Your manager will need time to answer all your questions.

After receiving feedback on her written communication, Naz worked hard to improve herself. She practised writing more and now she has a blog on Medium where she talks about Work-Life-Balance and shares her experiences.

One last tip for you:

Set your action steps and start working on them! Nothing will work until you do.

Hope this blog will help you in being more open to taking feedback. Share your thoughts  with us on Twitter @hellomeets

You can also have a look at our upcoming meetups here