[Applause]
ERIKA: Hello! That hello was better than I usually get, especially at four o’clock! I’m
so excited to be here at the Lead Developer which I referred to privately at the conference
where everyone I like and respect speaks! I’m honoured and delighted to be here this
year. This conference is extra special for me because my sister who I only see once or
twice a year is here in the audience. Thanks for being here. And thank you for all for
being here. It sounds like I’ve been following on Twitter as I sorted out the luggage incident
and it looks like it has been a wonderful day so far and I’m excited to watch the rest
of the talks. I’m also excite ed to share with you. There is me, America. You can find
me at everywhere on the internet that matters. I’m a software developer. My background was
web development, I did back-end Java which I adored and iOS development. I work at a
wonderful little company called Detroit Labs. We are a mobile soft swear consultancy of
about 100 people. My job is to train software developers. I came on four years ago as an
iOS developer and a little while later, we were having a hard time hiring mobile developers
to build the great things we wanted to build. And the reason for that if you’re not familiar
with Detroit, Michigan, is mobile developers can get paid a lot of money to work somewhere
where it is not winter nine months of the year! So we were struggling. We thought teaching
and learning is a huge part of our culture. What if we can take the people with the grit,
determination, persistence and loving of learning and they just aren’t developers yet and we
can train them over the course of, let’s say, three months? So that is our apprenticeship
programme now been we have graduated 60 people from it and we employ still 86 per cent as
of our graduates. Most are still in the industry. We are proud of that. We have trained iOS
developers, Android, JavaScript, and a QA class as well. It is my favourite thing in
the entire world to run that programme. I get paid to do my job. I don’t get paid to
talk about how much I love my job but I do every time because it is really wonderful.
It is also taught me a lot about feedback because, as a coach, you have to give feedback
and you have to receive feedback, and you have to teach other people to get really good
at doing both of those things. So, in my talk, we are going to establish a really quick shared
definition of feedback. We are going to talk about why I think it’s important to teams.
If we can agree that it is important, we will talk about why it is important to give and
receive feedback. The meat of the talk is how we do feedback better. The last piece
is how do I know? This is a talk about what I’ve learned. I bring a very weird variety
of experiences to the table. I have a background in psychology, I’m not a psychologist. Before
I got into tech, I worked in mediation helping people get divorced which was even less fun
than it sounds! I have about a decade of experience as a orchestral and chamber musician which
is a whole different form of feedback. I run a non-profit organisation and have the professional
training. I work in an organisation where we feedback or don’t get anything done in
our flat organisation. My whole job is to coach and mentor individuals and teams, and
a big piece of that is teaching people how to give and receive feedback. I’ve learned
about feedback from owl of those contexts. This is a talk about that. I’m going to suggest
that you do what I encourage you to do with feedback with this talk which is take what
you find useful and leave the rest. My shared definition of feedback for this talk is this:
a response to a person’s behaviour and a performance of increasing their awareness, broadening
their field of vision and shaping their behaviour. That first piece is really important because
the way that we move forward in our careers and the opportunities we get and the way people
respond to us is not based on what we say to them, it’s based on what they hear, and
feedback helps us understand how people perceive us. I’m going to on over a couple of types
of feedback I’m going to refer to in this talk. Affirmative feedback, known as positive
feedback, and I will say both things is where we say yes, good, that is great, do more of
that. We reinforce behaviour. We want that to happen in the future. Constructive feedback
which is what I say instead of negative feedback because it tends to panic people and they
stop hearing things is where we say don’t do that thing, or do that thing a little bit
differently. And this last piece is important, too, because if you’re not saying yes more
of that or no less of that, you’re still saying something. Silence and inaction are forms
of feedback. If you don’t positively reinforce a behaviour, you’re saying this is not important
to me. If you let bad behaviour go, you’re not saying it is not so bad if you do this.
No matter what you do, you’re giving feedback. If you focus on the first two types, you will
minimise undesirable passive feedback. I teach software developers. We start with things
like what is a foreloop. They learn it and I’m proud of them and then someone raises
their hand and says, “No what? Why do I care? Why is this important?” Now all of my lectures
have slides saying why does this matter? This is why I think this matters. I believe and
have seen from my experience that feedback done effectively is one of the best tools
we have for improving individual and team performance. I believe that it makes better
teams. It mechanics us trust each other more, helps us build better things faster. It helps
us solve problems early before they become toxic. I was asked to come and coach a team
of 20-some people and they were all struggling even to talk to each other because the team
had so many issues that were ingrained and everybody was mad at everybody and everybody
was mad at this one particular person also, and it was a whole thing, and they couldn’t
communicate let alone get anything done. We spent a whole day work ing out these issues.
As people kept talking and I thought if this was addressed the first time or possibly even
the 17th time, we wouldn’t be in this situation. There is a mosquito problems, and they are
I have my headphones on, and you come over and tap me on the shoulder and say, “I need
this from this thing from you right now.” I go with a little bit of rage in my eyes
and say, “Okay.” I’m annoyed and it’s not a big deal. If you do that 14 times in one
day, the mosquito has turned into a monster. If at any point that you do it I say, “Hey,
when I have my headphones on, I’m trying to focus and get something done and it is hard
for me to go back to that once I’ve been interrupted. Can you maybe slack me or something else if
you need something from me and we can figure out a way to communicate better.” The mosquito
never turns into a monster and the mosquito never eats me or the other developer. Why
is it hard? This is an easy answer. Feedback is hard for teams because it is hard for people.
My favourite thing to do and I would do it today if we had more time is go into a room
full of people, usually of software developers because that’s my job and say what is the
first word that comes to mind when you hear feedback. It is illuminating. I hear “Stress,
anxiety, fear”. Sometimes I hear a good thing or too like “Help or improvement” usually
I see a version of the word “horrified”. They hear they get feedback and shut down. Usually,
the next step is to say tell me about some of your experiences receiving and giving feedback
in the workplace. I made – I may hear one or two good ones and then I hear a lot of
really unfortunate ones. I don’t believe this is because any of the people involved in those
bad stories were bad people, or were jerks, or anything like that. But I believe that
giving and receiving feedback are both skills and they’re both difficult skills, and they’re
often not recognised as skills, and so we don’t get to practise them, and so we don’t
get good at them, and they become scary. I also believe that feedback is hard because
take a look at all the words up there. Openness maturity, self-confidence, and trust. Not
a big deal, right! I don’t know about you, but those are things that are challenging
for me in the relationships with the people I love the most, let alone with my co-workers
who incidentally are also some of the people I love the most. This stuff is hard in our
lives. It is certainly hard in the workplace. The word “fearless” is in my title. It is
a little bit unfair because I don’t think we are ever really fearless. Two years ago
I had enormous fears of public speaking and getting on aeroplanes. I mentioned I’m from
Detroit. Okay. I did two things about that: I applied to conferences and I started practising
very, very short, like 45 minutes to Chicago flights. Then fly back. I practised. What
I got from that was amazing. What I got from that was an opportunity to travel. I have
met incredible people I developed a skill I never thought I would. I’ve gotten to share
things I’ve learned but learned more from the people I’ve spoken to than they have from
me. It’s been an amazing ride of two years. It would not have happened if I hadn’t looked
at those fears and decided to treat them like opportunities. I had this project manager
once, and she would never say, “We have a problem.” She would come in go, “All right,
teem. We have an opportunity!” Yeah, right, I hated it! The client wanted this three days
and it’s not going to happen because they don’t have a – whatever. She would say that.
More than saying it, she persistently viewed situations that way. Over time, it did change
the team. It was really cool. I think that fears are our best clue as to how we can be
amazing. If you look at the things that you’re afraid of they represent these really cool
places in your life that you can learn something or really, really grow or really change in
a very positive way. They’re the best clues you’re going to get. For a very long time,
I said I’m just around the world of public speaking and I’m never going to be good at
it and not good at flying, sorry sister in Finland, I will only see you when you’re in
America because that’s who I am. That is crap. Fears are not who they are. They are real
and they’re very scary but they’re not irrevocable. They’re not something we can’t change, work
with, engage, and address. So, I built this little inventory for myself, and I’m sharing
can with you. When you feel anxiety around feedback, this is where the fearlessness starts.
What am I really scared of? When my boss says, “I want to meet with you next week on Tuesday.”
I’m scared of I’m going to get fired, just always, like that’s number one. And then I
push a little beyond that. And I get to I’m afraid that I haven’t done enough things or
that I didn’t haven’t done the right things, and despite my best of intentions I’ve been
blind somewhere and I have failed. Those are the things I’m really scared of. Then I say
okay. What could I do to get past that? For starters, I said to my boss, I hate it when
you send vague requests. Tell me what it is about. What can I do to get past those fears?
What is under those fears. What could I gain if I didn’t instantly question the value of
the work I do every time somebody says, “I have some feedback for you”? A lot, right?
If you fall asleep after this slide, you will walk out of here with good stuff, so I did
this for you! Good feedback is specific. If it is effective, it is specific. You saying
to somebody you did a good job is great but not helpful. You saying that could have been
better is also something but not that helpful. Good feedback is thoughtful. If you were thoughtful
and kind in your delivery, you will get much, much further than if you were not. Good feedback
is direct. This is the hardest one for me. I always thought of myself as nice and I’m
trying to stop thinking of myself as nice and thinking of myself as kind because when
you’re kind, you say the things that need to be said even if it is hard for you, but
if you’re nice, you never make anybody feel mad or uncomfortable so that’s not a productive
way to go through life for me. Good feedback is direct. Good feedback is structured. I
did not invent this. This is research-based. Situation behaviour impact means when I give
feedback, I structure it like this. I say in this scenario, you did this thing, and
this was the outcome. I’ve got some examples up there. That’s 101. And now I’ve got ten
strategies for you, and I’ve got 16 minutes, and I’ve never gotten through these in 16,
so here we go. Listen actively. In professional communication, this is the first thing they
teach you is active listening. This is the most important because how you listen is far
more important than anything you say. When you receive feedback, listen intentionally.
Listening is a lot about your body, and a lot about the little non-verbal things that
you do, and maybe a little bit about some verbal responses like okay, a-ha and nod your
head. This is very hard, and we all do it. We all listen to respond. Think about the
last conversation you were in where someone was saying something to you and you nodding
your head but in your head, “Come on, I know what I’m going to say. Let’s go” you probably
didn’t hear the last three things they said. Listening actively really just listening to
hear. This is a helpful piece of active listening, and it is confirming understanding. You listen
to everything someone has to say and then you say what I’m hearing you say is when I
disagree with you in the meeting, you felt disrespected, and you felt hurt. And they
say, “Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say.” Or they say, “No, that’s not what I was trying
to say. Let me try again.” And they try again. Then you confirm again. This is a magical
tactic. It often brings down the intensity of a conversation just because somebody when
they feel hurt, their body goes hurt, “You get it.” It is also great for relationships.
I think it took about twos months before my fianc� caught on to me caught to, “What
I’m hearing you say is …”. how he does it back! Step two! Say thank you. This seems
really intuitive. If someone says a great thing to you like, “I loved your talk,” boy,
that pull request was beautifully structured, or you really nailed that explanation, or
you really coached me really well today. All you do is say, “Thank you?” We go, “Oh, my
God, the talk was terrible, and my shirt matched my slides, and that was really bad, and I
said this one weird catchphrase over and over again that I just invented.” If you come up
for me in this talk and say you liked it, I will try really hard to do that but I might
anyway! So, think about what happens when somebody says something really genuine and
positive to you. What do you do? Do you get embarrassed? Do you slug off the feedback?
— do you shrug off the feedback and say why you’re not great after all? Do you refuse
to take credit and minimise the compliments or change the subject? A lot of us do a lot
of those things. So I challenge you that, when someone gives you positive feedback,
look them in the eye, smile, and say, “Thank you.” You can tall test me on this later,
all right! So that’s hard. Second one is way harder. You can also test me on this one.
Accepting constructive feedback without doing any of those things, without defending yourself,
without disengaging or shutting down, without fighting back. This is so hard because even
if somebody comes to us with the kindest most loving of intentions and they say how what
we did was not that great, it hurts. And we have feelings about it because we are people
and people have feelings. That’s normal and that’s totally okay. But you do not want to
respond from those emotions. So, you confirm understanding. What I’m hearing you say is,
“When I did this, it had this hurtful impact on you.” If they say, “Yes,” you move on and
you say, “Thank you for the feedback.” If you want to make sure that you’re not dismissing
them, you can say, “I really appreciate that you took the time to their this with me, and
I would like to take some time to choice about it and maybe, if necessary, could we meet
in a few days to follow up.” That’s it. You don’t push back, don’t argue, don’t explain
why you did the thing you did. Just say thank you. Imagine you’ve just had a performance
review with your manager and it did not go the way you hoped. Your job’s not in danger
but your manager said, “Here are some things I need you to get better at before you’re
eligible for that raise or promotion” or the next thing whatever you want is. You smile
and say, “Okay, thank you foreign the feedback. I understand.” And you walk out of there,
and on the way back, to your desk, you go, “She didn’t get it! She didn’t see that thing
I did, and that thing was totally that other person’s fault. That was not me. I was not
set up to succeed here. She’s having a bad day. You know what? I think she doesn’t like
me. She might be jealous of me. I don’t think she wanted to hire me in the first place.
That’s by the time you’re back to your desk! Go home. Cry about it if you have to. Sometimes
I have to. Let yourself feel the emotions that are brought up by whatever the feedback
is you got because emotions do this really cool thing. They come, and then they go. Feelings
want to be felt but don’t usually want to stick around. Then check back in with yourself.
Maybe 12 hours or a day or two later. Then say how do I feel about the feedback? If I’m
still really mad about that, okay, more time. Then a couple of more days, check back in.
And you say, “Huh, I think there was some value there because usually when something
hits this hard, there is a reason why.” So, at that point, once you’ve sat with the feedback,
process and think to yourself, okay, what do I want to address if anything? Do I need
to change my behaviour? How? I give in suggestion in the context of receiving feedback, and
you will notice I start all of my first things are about receiving feedback but I believe
this is valuable in the context of giving feedback too. Sometimes, it’s good to wait,
and process the feelings, and get some perspective before you give the feedback. Other times,
behaviour that is not okay needs to be addressed right away. This might be the hardest slide
on here. This is the thing I struggle with and the thing my entire company struggles
with. When you give or receive feedback, assume positive intent. Somebody else is taking the
time to compliment your work or share suggestions for improvement with you and that is great.
Assume positive intent if you disagree with feedback, even if you think it could have
been delivered more sensitively. When you’re giving someone constructive feedback, assume
they did not do that thing because they are not a jerk. Most of us in here are probably
not a jerk but we somebody do jerk things. So remember that person’s basic goodness,
and, when you receive constructive feedback and it is really hard, remember that that
person looked at you and said, “Boy, I think you’re great and I think you could be better
in this way, so I’m going to tell you this thing even though it is hard to give constructive
feedback because I want you to grow.” Another thing that project manager used to say was,
“Feedback is a gift!” I would roll my eyes all the way around. But she was right. Feedback
is a gift. When you thank someone for the feedback, you’re thanking them for that positive
intent. One exercise I like to do with this is say if my favourite team-mate had done
the exact same thing, would I respond the exact same way. If I act like a jerk in a
meeting, my favourite colleague Ann, who is also sitting here today, will probably buy
me a beer and trust I will get it together by tomorrow. If I’m a real jerk, she might
say, “Hey, you don’t seem like yourself today. What’s up?” If I didn’t shape up, she would
call me out and I would deserve it. She would give me the benefit of the doubt. So think
about somebody in your team that you really adore and care about and respond if this behaviour
was coming from them. Be specific. Whether it is positive feedback or constructive, it
should always be specific, and you want to focus on behaviour. Something like, “You have
a bad attitude” is really hard to defend because it is subjective so you want to think about
specific behaviours and maybe even specific quotes. I have some examples up here. I also
encourage you not to try to deliver too much feedback at once. In fact, when you’re going
to give somebody feedback, think about the most important thing you want them to take
from that session, and when they leave that session, if somebody asks them what was that
about? That is what they should say. Assume you’re not dealing with dangerous or seriously
destructive behaviour, focus on incremental changes. This is that really hard side for
me. When you have to say something to somebody that is going to be very hard for you to say
and very hard for them to hear, the tendency is to sandwich. It is to say, “You’re really,
really great, and so amazing, and you did this really, really awful thing, and not good,
and also, you’re so great in all these ways.” What did they hear? I’m going to do this thing
a wonderful developer friend of mine does where I say this is an opinion, so open opinion,
I don’t believe in the compliment sandwich. I think it is a cop-out. I think it is to
make the person giving the feedback giving better about giving hard feedback. I don’t
think it is to the benefit of the person hearing the feedback. If it is important, they need
to hear it. It cannot be mitigated and it needs to be allowed to land. It’s not going
to feel great. But that’s okay. End opinion. Be collaborative. Feedback is not the same
thing as dumping your opinion on somebody and walking away. You can increase the likelihood
that your feedback will be taken well and incorporated by engaging with the other person
around the feedback. Make space for your feedback to be effective. Before you deliver unsolicited
feedback, especially if it constructive, ask if they’re open to hearing feedback to this
or that. Give them an option. I have this one apprentice that struggles hearing constructive
feedback in the moment. I have it to her in the email before the one-on-one and she comes
in and talks the next day. That works well for her. If somebody says they want your feedback
three years from now by carrier pigeon, you may have a different set of concerns! But,
within reason. Give the person options. Confirm understanding. Make sure when you give feedback,
somebody understands what you are saying. Ask them to repeat it back to you. Say, “Okay,
I feel like I just communicated a lot of words. What did you hear from that?” If it is appropriate,
follow up. I noticed you really made an effort to speak newspaper that meeting yesterday
and – speak up in that meeting yesterday and I appreciate it. Thank you. Feedback, like
most things is full of anti-patterns. When we give feedback, we’re focusing on behaviour,
not character. We say, “You did” not “you are”. Not you’re such a jerk in meetings but
you interrupted your colleague three times in that meeting. You never focus on who somebody
is, you focus on what they did. In order to create honesty and trust, a person has to
feel like they are not going to be punished for giving feedback. If you were a team lead,
it is on you to create that space. This is especially important when there is a power
differential. I have one mitigating factor for praise in public and criticise in public.
I believe that you say good things in front of the whole team, and you say not so great
things in private. However, if somebody is causing a real and ongoing problem with your
team, the team needs to know that that person is receiving feedback and is hearing about
it because if you’re only critiquing in private and the team doesn’t know anything’s happening
and they’re like that’s that is passive feedback right there” you’re giving passive feedback
to the team that that behaviour is day. If it is ongoing and a problem, make sure the
team knows, this person is receiving feedback about this behaviour and we are working on
it. I put the opinion right on the slide this time because I’m serious about this. I feel
strongly about this but it is sometimes an unpopular opinion. I believe that anonymous
feedback does the opposite of creating trust. I believe that it is also sometimes necessary,
especially in cases of a power differential. In my ideal world, we would not need anonymous
feedback but in the real world, sometimes, we do. There is a come component in any event
much maturity for being responsible to what you say to someone else. I have seen ways
that anonymous feedback can build resentment, hurt trust, and, worst of all, can allow people
to grind axes. But, in some cases, again, often in situations where somebody has more
power than somebody else, anonymous feedback is foreign and should be preserved. It is
great in cases where there is already trust. I get 360 feedback from people that I work
with about every six months, and not everybody at my company adores me and thinks I’m the
best thing in the entire world, but they all respect me and I trust all of them. Even if
I have hard things – they have hard things to say, I’m okay hearing that. I don’t need
to see their name attached to it, and that is it okay. This is for you, Lead Developers.
You as a leader can create a culture of good feedback. Your team notices what you model
and they do it too, whether it is good or not. They look at you and they say, “Okay,
that’s how this team is. This team is open. This team is France partner. This team comes
to somebody when they have a problem. They look at you when this team functions.” So,
if your team is struggling with feedback, you can start with structure. I like to build
in lots of regular feedback so we get to practise all of the time. We do mutual one-on-ones
so I give people feedback and they give feedback to me on a regular basis. We practice saying
nice things to each other for a while and then we get to the hard stuff and do team
retrospectives and talk about how we’re doing as a team. That structure is designed to be
scaffold be. It is not permanent in any event necessarily but designed to be there where
we get to the point where good feedback is happening organically in the moment. Last
but not least, practise. I think it is important to practise any time you’re going to say a
thing to a person that is going to be difficult for you. I learned this the hard way when
I tried to fire somebody for the first time and somehow didn’t! [Laughter]. Okay, I’m
hoping there was some empathy in that laughter! But the next time I had to fire somebody,
I went to a colleague and she said, “You fire me ten times.” I did. I went and fired then
the actual person I had to fire. You can practise with a team-mate, with a friend, a mentor
if you want to get good at this. I’ve been working with a coach for the last year, it’s
the best money I’ve spent in my entire life. You can get a group of colleagues together
say let’s model feedback for an organisation. There are so many options, but feedback is
a skill, and skills take practice, and they deteriorate without practice. I’m not going
to go through this because I’m short on time been you built the self-assessment and I do
it about myself every three months, and it has got lots much questions for you about
how you think about yourself and feedback. You want your team to get better at this.
For that to happen, it has got to start with you. As leaders, we have a very high responsibility
to self-aware ness and self-reflection and building the skills, even if they’re hard.
These are the questions that I ask myself. I have for you some specific challenges that
you can take home and do on Monday. Number one is easy: tell somebody something great
that they did. That’s all. Number two is a little harder: ask somebody on your team,
preferably somebody that you supervise, something that you do well and something you could doer
better. We have a channel on Slack called Thanks and it’s just for saying, “You did
this great thing and I want the whole org to know about it.” This last one is the hard
est so this is the bonus. Start the conversation with your team. Ask them. You probably have
an idea how you think you’re doing at giving and receiving feedback. How does your team
think you’re doing? I have some additional resources. I’ve ready all of these books and
gotten a lot out of all of them. Finally, that’s how you get a hold of me. I would love
to hear from you. I would love to hear about your experiences. This talk has shifted and
changed based on feedback I’ve gotten about it and things I’ve learned from other people,
so I hope I will continue to do so. If you want to see more of my dog, follow me on Twitter!
I’m deeply introverted – really – and I’m sure it’s true of some of you too. I have
a tonne of business cards with me. If you want to talk about this not now or not in
person, come to me, give me a card, and you can walk away. Thank you so much, thank you
to LeadDev for having me. Have a great rest of conference. [Applause].


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