Jake’s Micro-Blog

see also https://jakecoffman.com

Constructive Feedback

Let me tell you about the best feedback I’ve ever gotten and how it effects my behavior every day.

The year was 2003

Maybe, I’m not sure of the year.

This story is from when I was in college and over a summer I returned to the shoe store that I worked at throughout high school.

The store had hired a new person (that I knew from being a year younger than me in high school!) and I was training her on how to take care of customers, put boxes away, use the register, etc.

Unexpectedly

Suddenly one day when I was working with her, she started crying seemingly out of nowhere! So, I asked what was wrong, and she said:

You’re being really condescending.

That hit me like a ton of bricks because I didn’t realize I was being condescending. I was a sarcastic kid in school, and I assume I was trying to joke around with her since I already knew her.

So I apologized and told her it was great feedback and let me know right away if I did it again. She never did!

No jerks allowed

This might seem like a silly story about a time when I was young and being a jerk, but it’s the best feedback I’ve ever gotten.

I think about it whenever I do a code review. It’s easy to come off as arrogant or a jerk when reviewing someone else’s code. Some of my strategies to avoid being condescending here are:

  • Pose questions instead of making statements.
    • “This doesn’t meet the performance requirements.” vs “Does this meet the performance requirements?”
  • Refer to code as “the code” instead of “your code” to make it less personal.
  • Give praise to good code and efforts, not only criticisms.
  • Openly share times when you got things wrong and had to fix your own bugs.

A lesson about feedback

I also learned a lesson that day about how to give and receive feedback.

She didn’t wait all day to tell our manager about my behavior. Instead, she immediately told me to my face right when I was doing the behavior that was bad.

Her feedback was direct and actionable: you’re being condescending, and I don’t like it, please stop.

Also, give me some credit for my response. I owned up to my behavior. Though I was unaware, and thus kind of shocked at what she said, I accepted what she was saying and corrected my behavior.

I apply these lessons to the yearly “peer review” that I’ve done at most companies:

  • Don’t give feedback like “Jake’s code is messy”, instead point to specific examples in the code “This code is messy and needed refactoring, but Jake didn’t do it”
  • Own up to the critical feedback that others are pointing out, try to understand what they are saying and reach out to them to get more information.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the year to give feedback. If this is the first time they or you heard critical feedback then it should have been addressed earlier.