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Notes on feedback and self-reflection

bolt04 profile image David Pereira ・6 min read

Table of contents

Introduction

In this blog post, I'll share what I've learned recently regarding feedback in the context of conversations and self-reflection. Communication is a topic I set as one of my goals for 2021, so I'd like to share some of the topics I've enjoyed thinking and learning about.
As we grow in our careers, these become more relevant and important to understand. The way I see it, communication and leadership are essential if I want to help as many people as I possibly can, but of course, I won't forget the joy of technical skills and I'll always keep honing those 😁.

Giving Feedback

This is something that I use a significant portion of my time to improve because I want to be careful in the message I send to someone else. My intention is always to contribute with an opinion or perspective so that the other person can improve. Of course, the other person validates what I said first, and then decides what to do. This is very important because it means we can express our opinion to someone, but they aren't obliged to accept it and implement it the next time.

To me being open to new ideas that challenge the way I currently think is great! It's the perfect opportunity to come up with arguments and stand my ground about what I believe in. On the other hand, it's a phenomenal opportunity to hear arguments that are better than mine, and see something from a different perspective.

However, I have noticed that I refrain from giving feedback on certain topics, because I don't know the best way to do it. The way I used to think is that there is positive and negative feedback:

  • Positive feedback is the same as giving recognition to the other person, like saying "great job" or "you inspired others on that meeting".
  • Negative feedback means we give feedback on points that could be better, like "you could have shown X in the presentation".

But if we think about it, what is the difference between positive and negative feedback? Does it even exist?

Continuous improvement (a never-ending story)

Think about a time your favorite football team won the game with a clean sheet (zero goals suffered). As a coach, you might give feedback to your players like "great game, you all did great". But this implies there are no improvements to make, doesn't it? Even though we got a clean sheet, were there no defensive errors? Are there aspects the other team did better than us?

Striving for continuous improvement helps to be in the right mindset to give feedback to someone. The way I'm going to focus on giving feedback is by asking questions, so that the other person can think critically about their logic to a problem. This is an approach I'm trying to implement for myself, and I've seen it work so it motivates me to be better at it.

I heard giving feedback is a delicate art, now I see why that is. If we are mindful of this, we'll take into consideration the reaction the other person may have and always focus on the most important thing in giving feedback: helping the other person improve.

Burnout

Burnout is a tough topic to discuss, but I've recently been thinking about it. Mostly because I'm trying to do a lot of different things, and it seems I can't focus on one of them at a time. But it's a real struggle to stop doing things you find interesting when you're so curious to learn something new or improve something that already exists πŸ˜….

At my job I'm currently invested in: doing some open source work; recruitment with technical interviews and other phases; being responsible for one of our book clubs; being responsible for some internal initiatives (e.g. event-driven architectures) and some other stuff like digging into zero-downtime deployments, health checks, and cloud architecture. Outside of work I try to keep up with some open source projects I'm part of in the EddieHub organization and write blog posts.

Sometimes it does seem like quite a bit of work, but what really matters is not the situation I'm in, but the state I'm in. How am I feeling during these times I want to do a lot? Tired or calm? In all honesty, it depends on the day. If I'm not tired, I can decide to just bang out some code and study some new web development stuff friday night + most of the weekend. When I'm tired, I decide to postpone some stuff to the next day, because most of it is to keep up with the industry and keep learning as much as I can (as well as feeding my curiosity).

But there is no deadline for this. I can set one but if I don't complete it, it's not the end of the world. I'd feel much more stressed if I decided "I have to reach my next level at this date", because my mind would focus on where I want to be, and it would project itself to that place. If I disregard where I'm currently at and project myself into the "desired place", I'm removing that space where growth happens!

Reflection happens when you stop

We need time to think. We can't be in a constant state of flow, because there is no time to think and reflect. I've never thought too much about this, but I realize now I should make it a habit of mine, to take time to simply do nothing! The sprint is finished? Great, let's stop and think about what happened and what can be improved. It's also at these times where we stop that we are more creative. At least I usually have more ideas when I go for a walk or step outside my room πŸ˜….

Taking time to think how the meeting went is good, but it's also important to ask someone else for feedback because there are things we don't see in ourselves sometimes. This has become very clear for me recently since I hadn't noticed what my behavior was like in a conversation with another person.

My default behavior tends to keep me in "thinking mode", stopping me from interacting in a group. It says certain words repeatedly in a presentation or simply while talking. It asks a question, following right up with another question... Self-reflection is very important because it gives you awareness about yourself, your behavior. Once you know how you behave in a given situation, you just have to know how you want to behave, and start working towards that.

Define a plan of action

The way I started working towards improving my behavior and other aspects, is to ask questions to myself and then define a plan of action. For example, I want to improve the way I give feedback to my coworkers. First I ask myself "How am I giving feedback today?", in which I could answer "well I say they did a great presentation at the end and suggest different solutions to problems". Okay, then I'll ask "What can I do to help the other person improve their skills the next time?". My answer would be "I think I could... hum... I could ask them how they think they can improve that specific block of code or that part of the presentation". Now I know something I can ask and take action for the next time I give feedback to someone.

Of course, planning can be hard to do and most of the time we may feel "I have no idea how to improve or what to do". But forcing ourselves to think and answer questions, many times results in small steps we know we can take. Then when we have a vision of the plan, "checking off" boxes along the way helps us see and feel progress.

Conclusion

I believe in this learning process:

  1. Learn
  2. Reflect
  3. Implement
  4. Share

I learned it from this video and ever since then I'm trying to share everything I learn, after reflecting on it. I'm not perfect at it, but I try my best to follow it and challenge myself by reflecting and sharing. I want to continue to grow on this aspect (human skills), so I'll want to write more posts on this topic in the future πŸ™‚. The truth is I'm still sinking in all I've learned and trying to implement bits and pieces for all this knowledge to be at the root of my mind πŸ˜„.

Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this post and took something out of it. Currently, I'm working on a blog post about Azure Service Bus and event-driven architectures, so stay tuned for that!

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