Thanks for the Feedback

This isn’t the kind of non-fic that would normally appear on my radar, but I read it for a book club discussion at work (yes, we have those). Written by authors from the Harvard Negotiation Project, this book is about the art (and science) of giving and receiving feedback. The hook is an instant draw-in, as the authors frame the concept of feedback as universal. Every interaction in most relationships, they argue, is a form of feedback. At times, people conflate coaching or evaluation as feedback too, and there’s ways to sift through those.

This is a very practical book. It reads like a manual for situations where we might struggle to receive feedback. Like layers of an onion (with the tears too), it peels back the triggers and causes for it. It provides guardrails for recognising our own behaviours in response to feedback and course-corrections that help absorb the nuggets of truth. What is particularly wonderful though, is that it recognises that not all feedback is helpful, or to be taken at face value. Not all feedback givers are helpful either, sometimes lacking as much in tact as content. Chapters discuss these situations and how to deal with them.

Some points that I took away:

  1. Triggers – this is key to understanding why we react the way we do and how we can separate the feedback from the giver, the situation, or our state of mind. This is particularly useful for those of us who pride ourselves on our high EQ.
  2. Circumstances – so much of how we receive feedback is a result of our upbringing, our circumstances, and how we’re wired.
  3. Disagreements – Even if you understand and clarify the feedback you’re given, you still may disagree with the fundamental point and that’s ok. Also what to do about it.
  4. Gut – Spotting multiple tracks in feedback (coaching/evaluation) is hard because your initial reaction tends to take over. Also, what to do about that voice inside head.’
  5. Giving feedback – If receiving feedback is hard, there is quite a bit the giver can do to be heard. Choose your words carefully.

Ultimately, this is one of those books that I can see myself returning to when I need to. In my current workplace, there is a big culture of giving and receiving frequent feedback. No doubt, someone is bound to point a blind spot to me and I can imagine the techniques I have found in this read will prove useful. I am looking forward to our book club discussion now to see what insights others share!

Excellence in IT … a review

Not my usual kind of book… but since I began a new job in IT a few months ago and I just had my first performance appraisal for it last week, I thought this book just came along at a good time. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it very much. The author makes some compelling points that are not very obvious. However, I got told the same things at work as well so I was quite impressed. It is a must read if you’re in IT. If you’re not, then you might want to dip in and out, reading the bits that are relevant to your line of work.

Along with championing the good habits, the author also sets out the most common bad habits. I have had five years of technical education, two years of semi-technical work experience, and only four months in my latest IT role. However, I could easily see examples of the pitfall kind of people in my head. They are easy to spot, and knowing what you’re seeing makes it easier to work with them or work around them. It also makes it easier, as an employee, to recognise early signs of behaviours in oneself and sidestep them. We all like to think that we are doing the very best we can in our day jobs. But sometimes, in fact, most of the time, it is not about what we do; it is about how we do it. More and more organisations are hiring based on people standards rather than technical skills and this is why.

 Some other stellar advice – don’t stop learning, don’t be too cocky, never experiment on production systems, be the good man in a storm, keep your chin up. There is even an entire chapter on Stress Management, and that is probably as relevant in any industry, in any workplace. The book wraps up with how to remain critical and relevant in such a fast-changing environment and what separates a good techie from a bad one.

 The final thing that made me really respect the author – the discussion about the importance of documentation. I refuse to buy the bullshit that techies are bad at it. Some very very lazy techie came up with that. I have met some of the foremost researchers in the world in certain fields (and that includes people like Peter Higgs) and if you do not document, you are plain lazy.

Most useful lines ‘Always remember that competency is your responsibility. Moving forward without competency is, in all fairness, your fault and no one else’s’.