The biggest mistakes to avoid while receiving feedback

The biggest mistakes to avoid while receiving feedback

I was an L4 engineer at Youtube, working on a multi quarter, multi-PA project. I put in tons of hard work designing and executing. A week away from the planned launch date, we learned that the other Product Area (PA) was nowhere close to being ready.

A few months later, after the project was done, I asked my L6 "quarterback" on the project for support on my promotion case. They told me that I had been operating beyond L4, but not at L5 yet. It crushed my soul in that moment hearing that. I reacted by poorly and desperately justifying why I deserved that promo. Later that night, I had to write an email apologizing for my behavior and promising to be more receptive to feedback. Read on to see how I finally "heard" the feedback and learned critical career lessons.

Feedback is an important part of aligning yourself with organization's needs. However, it's not an easy task. Here are the biggest mistakes I made while receiving feedback.

Mistake 1: Not asking for feedback

If I don't ask for feedback, I won't have to deal with negative emotions that come with receiving one.

Truth of the matter is, we cannot grow without these critical moments of feedback. In my story above, I never told my L6 lead that I was aiming to operate as an L5 on this project. I never "course corrected" throughout the project. I ended up being surprised at the end.

Learn how to best ask for feedback with resources from Taro.

Mistake 2: Listening to gut feeling

It's inherent to feel upset when you've been working hard but your output is not recognized positively. These strong emotions, though worth recognizing, may lead to knee-jerk reactions.

  • If you're in person, avoid reacting if you're feeling upset.
  • If you're reading an email, you can write your response, but don't send the email until the next day.

It will save you the effort of apologizing for your behaviors later.

Mistake 3: Being defensive

You might feel like that the person giving you feedback is "against" you. And it's a battle of who is right or wrong.

However, the right perspective to face this with is that they're your teammate, and they have observed something and want to help you do better. Lead this conversation with curiosity, an investigative approach almost.

  • Listen completely first.
  • Combine what they've observed with your side of things and facts (evidence based), but with not an intention to negate their observations.
  • Work as a "team" to arrive to a conclusion about what has happened.

Mistake 4: Not translating to concrete actions

When you receive feedback, you want to translate it to concrete changes in behaviors and actions. Receiving feedback is not complete without changes.

  • Paraphrase what you've heard in the feedback to make sure you're on the same page, with statements like "So, what I am hearing is that ....".
  • Come with top three ways in which you can course-correct. It's hard to make big sweeping changes suddenly, so you want to start small.
  • Use concrete examples. Instead of "I will do better code reviews", you want to phrase as "I will spend more time validating the correctness of the code before approving".

When I took the feedback the right way...

Going back to my story above, the feedback my L6 tech lead was trying to give to me was about how I didn't keep a tab on progress of the other PA, taking their word for their timeline. I should've escalated to my leadership about lack of visibility, but I instead kept everyone in confidence until the last moment. From that feedback, I learned:

  • It's my responsibility as a tech lead for the project to succeed no matter what. I should be ready to play any role that the project needs – of project manager, product manager, QA, UX etc.
  • Not trust anyone's word at face value – go into the details, ask for evidence.
  • Communicating with leadership – how to escalate, when to escalate, what to escalate.

All of these lessons have helped me so much in my further journey. Hopefully, you find similar successes in learning from feedback!

Connect with Lalit Kundu on LinkedIn.