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True respect is the difference

True respect is the difference

November 9, 2020

Last week I tweeted:

Got told "this is lame" about one of my mocks, and you know what? I'm here for that energy. Could've been a much longer "what do you think about...? did you try...?" conversation, but sometimes the bluntness is just right.

This response from Hans captured another meaning behind my message:

“this is lame” can be a sign of a bad team, but also of a fantastic team. true respect is the difference.

After reading this response, I started wondering: how many relationships do I have where giving candid feedback happens by default? How many people do I think would give me blunt feedback, if asked? If the ability to give and receive candid feedback is a proxy for respect between peers, I want this number to go up.

This made me wonder: if I am going to be intentional about growing this number over time, what should I continue to do, stop doing, or start doing in the next year?

Three things came to mind:

Ask for bluntness from the right people, at the right time.

Sometimes I've found myself asking for feedback from a peer or manager when I was secretly looking for praise. Fishing for compliments like this is no way to actually improve, so the first step is to stop doing this. If I'm going to ask for feedback, then I want the feedback to be substantial; something that will actually help me to grow and improve a design.

This means asking for feedback from the right people at the right time. The right people are going to be those with expertise in the area where I'm working, or people who I feel have exceptional taste and judgment. The right times are usually in private, after I feel that I've truly exhausted my own personal abilities to make a design as good as possible.

One mistake I've made in the past is asking for feedback too early, essentially looking for someone to co-design. Most of the time, this is lazy. Of course, there's tension between asking for feedback too early and too late: when a project is about to ship, and any real critique is unlikely to have material impact on the design, that feedback goes to waste.

One of the cool things about working with the same people for long periods of time is that you start to understand how they think, and you can anticipate their questions. This is always a good gut check: if I can anticipate a question, and haven't done the work to have a thoughtful answer, it's too early to ask for feedback.

Look for permission to initiate.

If I expect blunt feedback from people I respect, it follows that they might also expect blunt feedback from me (assuming of course that they respect me). This means overcoming my own non-confrontational tendency, and identifying when other people are asking me for something deeper than surface level critique. And when that moment comes, I need to deliver thoughtful, kind feedback so that we can have a productive conversation, and hopefully continue the practice many times in the future.

Praise as candidly as I critique.

It feels really good to get blunt feedback from someone who I respect. But it feels even better to be told that I've done a good job from someone who actually means it. I want my praise to mean just as much to someone else as my critique. Praise should be honest. Trying to make someone feel good with a compliment only relieves pain temporarily, at the cost of being held back from true growth. It's a sign of disrespect.