You spot an opportunity and say to a team mate or boss "Hey I noticed this thing you could do better". They react.
Like in that Ink Master show ...
Or in that Baking Show show ...
"I'm doing great, better than many!" vs. "Oh jeez".
Receiving feedback is hard. But it's the best way to improve. Thank You is the best, and hardest, response.
That's what we talked about in this week's Senior Mindset Mastermind call.
Judges on the baking show are super nice, they always find something to compliment. It's wholesome as heck.
Gordon Ramsay shows are ... not like that. He rips into the contestants and says terrible things about their food and they go "Thank you chef". Not on streaming, couldn't make a gif 💩
Judges on Ink Master are somewhere in between. The guy in my gif is kind of a prick. He's being harsh. Trying to break through the contestant's defenses so she can start improving.
But those are shows. It's different, right?
Not so. Feedback is critical.
Airplanes have crashed because a copilot couldn't tell the pilot that shit's going wrong. There's a great scene in HBO's Chernobyl series, first episode, where everyone is afraid to give feedback up the chain and it directly leads to disaster.
"We measured high radiation!"
"The max, counter can't go higher"
"What's the number?"
"Okay 10 is within limits. We call Moscow and say everything is safe and under control"
"EVERYTHING IS SAFE AND UNDER CONTROL! I am not losing my job for this"
You know what happens next 😅
Giving feedback is important, but ego gets in the way. Everyone likes to talk about egoless programming until they're the ones being told No. Then it's like OMAIGOD WHAT!?
Don't use the shit sandwich. Something nice, something bad, something nice. Everyone sees right through that bullshit.
Here's what you do instead:
- Establish a good working relationship
- Ensure a common understanding of good intentions
- Focus on the work, not the person
- Ask clarifying questions
- Make suggestions as questions (Have you tried X?)
- Explain your reasoning
Camaraderie and rapport make everything easier. Explaining your reasoning gives the other person a chance to say "Oh your assumption is wrong". Asking questions ensures you understand the whole situation.
Suggestions as questions are like verbal jujitsu. I think it's stupid but it works. For 2 reasons:
a) the person can save face and take ownership b) it may have been tried and didn't work
But it also leads to planes crashing. "Have you considered checking the altimeter reading?" is too gentle when you're about to crash. If you have strong opinions in a critical situation, say it straight. No time for egos.
Personally I think people should get over themselves and not be upset when you say "hey this shit is bad and I know you can do better". But that's not the world we live in ¯_(ツ)_/¯
People put a lot of
ego pride into their work. You have to be gentle. When it's soft feedback about personality traits, be even gentler.
"Hey your sweater is nice! You have great taste"
"Oh this old thing? Pfft"
You just told someone never to give you a compliment. They were looking for a feel good moment and you made it awkward.
Say Thank You then shut up. Simple. But hard.
Same with negative feedback. Say thank you, ask for examples, dig in with clarifying questions, and do not defend yourself. Accept.
Unless they're being personal. Talking about who or what you are instead of what you're doing. Then rip 'em a new one.
I like to tell my bird he's being an idiot when he's spooked leaves falling outside. But that doesn't mean he is an idiot. Birds are birds.
Here's the thing about feedback. Positive feedback feels good and negative feedback helps you improve. Which do you want?
It's easier to grow a skill from 20th percentile to 50th, than it is to polish a 95th percentile skill to 96th. Newbie gains are the best.
You're a combination of all your skills. Combine a 20% and 96% skill, you get 19.2%. But combine a 50% and 95% skill, you get 47.5%.
What do you want to focus on improving? Up to you.
How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great book on these topics. The lessons it teaches have become a normal part of corporate culture.
PS: how to give feedback is my growth area. People say I poke egos
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies
Getting that senior title is easy. Just stick around. Being a true senior takes a new way of thinking. Do you have it?
Get a free chapter from the Senior Engineer Mindset book and a sample audiobook chapter, followed by a Senior Mindset 101 email course.
You'll get insights to apply at your work right away.
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️