Last week, one of my coworkers at Nested suggested we join a virtual Meetup ran by Triangirls titled Overcoming the fear of feedback. I wanted to share what was said and what I learned during these 90 minutes on Zoom.

The talk was centred around three topics: (1) how to deal with negative feedback, (2) how to deliver feedback, especially in a remote world and (3) perfectionism, procrastination and your inner critic.

Cecile Eschenauer covered this section. She is a life and career coach working with women who find themselves at crossroads in their life. And all the women she works with have one point in common, beyond being women: they have all received negative feedback in their life and this feedback has helped build their sense of self in all areas of their life. Sometimes, feedback gives you wings and pushes you in the right direction, and sometimes it makes you want to slam the door and give up.

According to Tomi-Ann Roberts and Susan Nolen-Hoeksema’s research Sex Differences in Reactions to Evaluative Feedback at Stanford University, women are likelier than men to be influenced by the negative feedback they receive, whereas men are more likely to be influenced by the positive feedback they receive. This shows that we let feedback influence us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are four steps to owning and freeing yourself from the feedback you receive:

  • Redefine feedback: from early childhood, feedback is an integral part of our lives. It helps us understand the world, what our role in society should be and whether something is right or not. But feedback is never is truth about yourself. It is a truth about the experience someone has of you. A simple example to understand this is a joke. People might find the same joke funny, not funny, outrageous, hilarious. And these are each person’s truth with regards to that joke. There are not a truth about the joke itself. Feedback about you is the same. It is the narrative of someone’s experience of you, not an absolute truth about who you are.
  • Reframe feedback: people make feedback they give you about you. But it is your responsibility to reframe it and change your perspective. This piece of feedback that you have received is someone’s experience of you, perceived through that someone’s upbringing, culture, experience… Once you have reframed that feedback through the other person’s perspective, you can distance yourself from it and send it back to them, because it is their responsibility.
  • Decide feedback: once you have reframed feedback, you are free to decide whether you want to care or not. To do so, ask yourself what you goal is, and whether the opinion the person presented you with is relevant to that goal or not. If the answer is not, then you can let it go. No everybody will agree with / like you. If the answer is yes, then do decide to care and go back to them to gain better understanding of their filters, culture, values, experience…
  • Ask feedback: once you have a goal and know whose opinion matters to you and your goal, then ask relevant people for that precious feedback.

The conclusion is that feedback is not about you and by changing your perspective you will benefit from it and free yourself from the feedback that holds you back and does not contribute towards your goal.

Laxmi Kerai covered this section. She has worked in the digital industry for over 12 years, has delivered lots of feedback and it has not always landed well. On top of these feedback horror stories, Laxmi gave us keys to not only learn from the bad feedback experiences instead of burying them and never mentioning them again but also to help us get better at delivering feedback.

Just like many other things there is never one way of delivering feedback. It is all about talking and behaviours. The first tip when working on feedback delivery is to do a self retrospective after delivering feedback: what worked well . What could be improved? What have I learned from it? These three questions are not fixed, there are many toolkits around feedback delivery, and this self retrospective is just one of them.

When it comes to feedback, there are many tools at our disposal to try and make the experience positive and constructive. The Johari window is one of them. It is a psychological tool created in 1955 that’s like a self awareness window.

This window of yourself evolves over time. The larger the open self part is, the more effective you are in delivering feedback. However, when remote, your open self is less visible to others. To fix that, we need to proactively help make the unknowns know. Using the Johari window is a way of making progress in feedback delivery. The Johari window can be done individually or as a team.

After delivering feedback, it is important to, in turn, ask for feedback. There are many ways of doing this, including:

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 = terrible and 5 = it totally rocked my world, how was the session for you?
  • How can this catch-up be more useful for you?
  • What was good and what could improve about this catch-up?
  • Before everyone leaves, can I get a thumbs up or down on how you found this catch-up?
  • Visual cards — pick an image which represents how you feel this meeting went

When using this type of language, the feedback becomes a partnership. Quite a lot of tools can help achieve this language of partnership:

There are a few things to think about before delivering feedback, like how can the feedback help bridge the gap, what is a concrete example to work through, what is it like for the other person… Having a concrete example is very important. Telling someone you felt frustrated because they interrupted you twice during a meeting is way more efficient than telling them you were annoyed with them at the meeting. This is valid for any feedback delivery but there are a few extra tips when delivering that feedback remotely. These include looking into the camera if possible to have eye contact, using a clean open-ended language. But at the end of the day, giving feedback, like many other things in life is about practice. There is never one way of delivering feedback and knowing the person will help figuring out what time of feedback works best and when.

In conclusion, alway remember to be kind to yourself in the process of giving feedback.

Sarah James is Head of Customer Analytics for a UK based tech company with a 20-year career behind her in digital and data. In this talk, she discussed how working in a consistently fast-paced and unforgiving environment combined with a perfectionism and terrible self-care brought her to a place of near burnout — more than once!

By learning to recognise her inner critic and apply self-compassion she was able to create healthier, happier, more sustainable working practices. A great way of getting to know your inner critic is to pay attention to how you talk to yourself, how you describe what you do, how you describe your successes. Make an effort to notice how you speak to yourself and you will notice that you would never talk to other people or recognise other people’s successes the same way. This is what pushes some people to trying to make everything correct permanently.

We are conditioned for shame in the society that we live in. This is obvious when trying to remember how old you were when you were first shamed about who you are, what you like or what you wear. We internalise these messages as we move on with life. For some people, dealing with that means being perfect in every way so this doesn’t happen, and it is what leads to perfectionism.

It is strange how we are able to be a good friend and comfort people who need it, but how rarely we do it for ourselves. This is where self esteem comes in. Self esteem is based on a comparison with others. We feel like we always have to be above average, but how can we always be above average? Average becomes an insult. In contrast, self compassion is not based on positive judgement in comparison with others, it is simply a positive way of thinking about oneself.

Just like perfectionism, procrastination is a coping mechanism and you can change it. Instead of asking yourself what could be better or what’s wrong with what you are doing, ask yourself what the minimal product you consider finished is, and then ask yourself how you can do this quicker.

The first step to turning things around is to bring it to awareness and find the positive in everything you do instead of doing the opposite. It can seem silly or fake at first, but try and imagine how you would give feedback to someone you love, and do the same for you, in a way that shows self compassion. Notice how you talk about yourself and the things you care about. Catch yourself every time you say or think something negative about it and start thinking how you would say it to someone you love. This talk explains it well: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability.

Thank you for reading and thanks you to Triangirls for organising such a great event.

Software Developer — yogi, swimmer, cyclist, gardener and scuba diver

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