Personal notes on Receiving Feedback

Processing feedback rationally

Thu, 10 Jun 2021

Expanding on my personal notes on ”Things to keep in mind while receiving feedback,” which I keep coming back to from time to time. Things I keep at the back of my head whenever I’m receiving feedback. This has helped me a lot in the past few years; I hope it can serve as an inspiration for you to compile your own notes on the topic which you’ll want to live by.

feedback

Recognise that critical feedback is a privilege.

Not everyone gives honest critical feedback, and not everyone gets it. Giving negative feedback poses a risk on the provider’s end to land up in your bad books. So, most intelligent people choose to avoid it altogether. Some might tone it down, sugar coat it, or some might choose to sandwich it between positive feedback.

As Dale Carnegie mentions:

“Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurt his sense of importance and arouse resentment.“- Dale Carnegie

Regardless of all this, if someone chooses to give feedback, it is a boon; accept it; They’re taking a leap of faith, hoping you won’t hate them for speaking up. Merely recognizing that it is a privilege at the back of my head helps me focus on the message without getting defensive.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

The worst response to handling criticism of your shortcomings is to try and shut down the criticism, not the failures. Sometimes someone’s feedback or comments can be nerve-wracking. Sometimes, it ignites your anger and tempts you to reciprocate with heedless critical comments. Don’t. Resist the temptation. You may go on the heated argumentative mode. And the result? That person will be discouraged from sharing feedback the next time. Congratulations! You just eliminated one more source of feedback that could potentially help you. If you do this more often, you’ll be devoid of intentional feedback. Worst, you might not end up on good terms with them.

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” - Joe Klaas

The idea should be to cultivate more and more feedback sources rather than shun the ones you got by default.

While unconstructive criticism might not be ideal, mostly it is useful.

Let’s be honest; not everyone gives constructive feedback. In a world where constructive feedback is scarce, the ability to unpack unconstructive feedback is a gem.

There are times where nudging the person to be specific doesn’t work. In that case, it becomes your job to separate signals from noise, to look for whys beneath each what.

Unconstructive feedback might suffer from being - false, humiliating, biased towards negativity, situations being blown out of proportions, lack of specificity, etc. But know that the person said it regardless, and there was a reason for it. The reason might not be related to a flaw in you or your actions, but there was a reason why someone uttered certain words pointed at you at that time.

Trying to unwrap the reason can give you interesting insights - if lucky about you, perception of that person towards you, the expectation of the person of you, your public perception, your relationship with that person, person’s current state of mind, person’s general behavior or alternate take about your way of being.

This is probably the most important tip I’ve discovered. If I have to describe it in a single sentence: Unpack criticism with empathy since it will likely be helpful even when it is not a truthful representation of your character.

It is perfectly normal to receive some really shitty advice/comment from your friends, family, teachers & your loved ones. But that only highlights their belief system and biases that they’re holding. So, instead of acting on that bad piece of advice, it is better to empathize with them and understand where they’re coming from.

“The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they’re telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.” - 50 Cent

Know that sometimes it will be the signals, not words, that will tell you what you need to do to get better.

Recognise and remind yourself that you’re not self-aware

Many of us like to believe that we understand ourselves at all possible facets. And no one can tell us something about us that we don’t already know. But that’s where we get wrong.

Self-awareness is a journey, and while everyone strives to become more and more self-aware, the truth is - we are most probably far off from self-actualization. Only if we could see our shortcomings and have honest conversations with ourselves.

As it is said, ”If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.” We are fundamentally complex creatures and can be pretty irrational. We all live with several cognitive biases which blind us from seeing things clearly. Things which are very obvious to you can be totally invisible to some. Almost as if they are selectively blindfolded. Daniel Kahneman has written about it at lengths, though I had a moment of epiphany after reading this one statement.

We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness. - Kahneman

Unless we don’t realize that we aren’t self-aware, it will always act as a barrier to receiving feedback. Furthermore, understanding and reading about these biases will surely help you work with them better.

Make notes & think deeply about it when alone

Lasting change can only come when new-discovered information is assimilated, introspected with a fine lens, and acted upon after problem-solving.

If it hurts to hear it, look for the truth in it. If it comforts to hear it, look for the lie in it. - @naval

So, I like to jot down any form of feedback/epiphany as soon as possible, with that still fresh in my head. And ponder over it whenever I find solitude. Question positive feedback and look for flattery, hidden incentives. Question negative feedback and look for signals, patterns, flags, truth.

Closing notes

Sometimes we could be our own worst enemy when it comes to growth. Some habits become so ingrained in us that we forget that they do. We develop idiosyncrasies, certain tendencies that limit our potential. If only we started seeking and absorbing more external feedback rather than blocking it, we can see these patterns and work around them. Internalizing learnings and breaking patterns can be demanding, but it certainly pays off in dividends. Also, it is easy to get caught up and start depending on someone for validation. Remember, feedback is not approval/validation.

I’ll close off with a compelling quote from Nietzsche -

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed” - Nietzsche

PS: I’m actively seeking blatant honest feedback. I’d be delighted if you could spare a few minutes to fill this form or to coffee connect over a call.

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Lokesh Devnani

Lokesh is a full stack developer with a knack of building scalable software systems. He spends his free time dancing & contributing to this blog.