A colleague and I were discussing how it is difficult to take critical feedback well. The conversation was textual and I ended up writing a lot of thoughts. In a bid to save my keystrokes from dying, I thought I will pen down my thoughts here so that I can share them with peeps whenever I want to, plus it makes it easier for me to come back to these ideas.
Before we begin, this doesn’t mean I have perfected this. These are just some ideas I try to keep in mind to make sure I am not unnecessarily defending myself or my actions. All of us falter.
You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.
Thank god for the internet, and impostor accounts! This quote has become a go-to for me whenever I feel that I am getting affected too much by what people have to say to me. Read it slooooooowly, and absoooooooorb it.
Based on this insight, I started giving myself time to absorb critical feedback. A very common scenario is receiving a code review. Sometimes when I find myself having an emotional reaction to a review, I will just go through all the comments and not respond. I will take some time (maybe a few hours) and then come back to the review. Having the time to absorb the feedback and getting my emotions out of the way, I find myself become more accepting of both objective and subjective suggestions, and just be a nicer person overall 😬
Phew. The pressure! I forget this often (maybe you too?).
You proposed an idea, but the idea had loopholes. It is okay to propose bad ideas. You suggested a design, but the design will break for these edge cases. It is okay that you missed thinking of those edge cases. You acted a certain way, and it wasn’t the best that could have been done. It is okay.
It is completely okay to be wrong. Once I understand that, I calm down.
Let’s say I am leading a team. I might feel that if I am wrong, I will be respected less (not a hypothetical situation). But on the contrary, accepting that I might have been wrong lets people come closer. Because now there is no pressure on them as well to be always right, and then they can voice their opinions and ideas unfiltered, and that’s how good solutions are found, right?
Another reason that stops us from accepting a mistake is Ego. Ego doesn’t let us say, “Oops, I totally missed that!“. The trick (I think), is to know that ego creeps up unannounced, and it is pertinent that you listen to the other person, without reacting to the words like it is an attack on you (“Don’t be the Alpha Geek”).
Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy is a good read for creating the awareness.
Another thing I do is, I try to see where the other person might be coming from. As in, why does the person think they are right or what they are suggesting is fair. If you understand the motive behind someone’s actions, it is also easy to reason with them, and/or understand their point (the idea was discussed in an unrelated book: Never Split the Difference).
Related to this is the idea that if you want to buy something you already like, let’s say the iPhone, don’t search for “why should I buy the iPhone”. Rather, search for “why should I not buy the iPhone?” because that is a perspective you don’t have. Once you understand the arguments from both the sides, you can now make a more informed decision.
Learning from this, when someone disagrees with me, I try to think “What might be the reason that makes this person believe they are right? What information/insight do they have that I might be lacking?“. This also helps me ask better questions to clarify the opposing argument. This is much better than thinking “Why can’t they understand my argument?“.
I will be happy to know about what you do to take critical feedback well, and if you think I need to relearn a few things.