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The feedback sieve

Prioritizing Energinzing Tasks and Organizing Your Daily Tasks For Maximum Productivity

Paige Doherty
3 min read
July 28, 2022

Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was investing in Mindy Zhang as an executive coach this past year. Mindy was an early employee at Dropbox and experienced the thrill and growing pains of scaling to 2,000+ employees. Most recently, she was Head of Product Growth at Oscar Health during the company's IPO. 

Through Mindy, I’ve learned that my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses. You cannot be asymmetrically strong in one area without having a tradeoff in another.  

My example: I am highly receptive to feedback. 

Why? I feel fortunate to have grown up in a loving, close-knit home. Before becoming an artist, my mom was a counselor, so our family has always talked a lot about our feelings and put an emphasis on clear communication. Feedback has always been encouraged and valued so I’ve become like a little ball of playdough - picking up all the pieces and applying them.

I also had read hundreds of books before I started high school, and I started to incorporate bits and pieces of lessons from them. Growing up on the internet, I heavily consumed and curated media and content to craft an online identity. These platforms - Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter - all gave me access to different feedback as well. 

This past year, I went from a new college grad working at a 12-person startup to running a venture firm with 120 investors and 20+ portfolio founders and creating content for a community of 28k+ Twitter followers. With such a sudden & drastic shift of information, I’ve struggled to take a systemized critical lens to evaluate the raw data coming in and often feel underwater. 

When I unpacked my strength of incorporating feedback a bit more with Mindy, we found that I am uniquely receptive to all feedback, and that I would benefit from having a stronger filter on the feedback I receive.  

What is feedback? 

Mindy taught me that “feedback is strategic information you’re learning about how the other person views the world.” Feedback is the other person telling you “If you changed this, my experience with or view of you would be improved.” Another way to think about this is from a product perspective:

As a product leader, you’ll receive feedback from many different customers. You want to prioritize and review the source of this feedback. You’ll often receive strong feedback from non-target customers about their feelings for the product, which should not be incorporated. It’s much easier to take this approach getting feedback on a product vs. as a person, because a product doesn’t have an emotional reaction.

 As an adult, feedback shifts for two reasons: 

  1. The feedback you receive as an adult, especially in the workplace, is much more nuanced. 
  2. You develop a higher sense of agency, which allows you a broader scope of action when introduced to feedback. 

The Feedback Sieve: Critically Applying Feedback

Luckily, Mindy recommended a framework for analyzing feedback that I call the Feedback Sieve. Sieves are utensils used for sorting finer grained molecules from coarser-grained ones, which I found to be a tight analogy for this framework. The steps of the Feedback Sieve I’m now applying are:  

  1. Note your instinctual emotional reaction & do not judge yourself for it. Meditation can be a great addition as a daily practice - but the key in Step 1 is not judging your initial response. 
  2. Find the ounce of truth in the feedback. This ounce of truth may be about you or it may be about the other person. Going back to the section above, ask yourself “how does this feedback reflect how the other person views the world?”
  3. Decide what, if any, changes you’d like to make based on the ounce of truth. 

By identifying the ounce of truth before immersing yourself in the whole bucket of feedback, you allow yourself to explore your agency and paths forward. This framework can be supplemented by asking the following questions (particularly if the feedback is business-related) to understand where it lies on the urgency spectrum.

“Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it. Just to clarify, is this

  1. something that is an urgent or pressing need for you?
  2. something I should consider incorporating longer term when I have more resources?

I also found another great resource on receiving negative feedback specifically from Tasha Eurich’s Harvard Business Review article The Right Way to Respond to Negative Feedback, which lists five research-supported steps. I found this technique helpful in applying feedback that had already passed through the Feedback Sieve, but found it missed the key aspect of analyzing the source of the feedback and their ounce of truth. 

  1. Don’t rush to react. 
  2. Get more data from a small circle of “loving critics”. 
  3. Find a harbinger - a very visible action that symbolizes how serious you are about changing.
  4. Don’t be a lonely martyr - don’t avoid the people who provided you with critical feedback. 
  5. Remember that change is just one option - you can also acknowledge and own your shortcomings that are deeply woven into the fabric of you.  

Techniques for communicating feedback from my mom

When I was writing this piece, I also reflected on the flipside of receiving feedback - communicating feedback. I learned a lot about this from my mom, and many of her teachings stemmed from nonviolent communication. I thought it might be helpful to include some of her frameworks for communicating feedback: 

  1. Ask the person if now is a good time to provide feedback. If it’s a particularly emotionally charged situation, you often want to separate your reaction from your feedback. 
  1. “Are you open to receiving feedback?”
  1. If so, deliver what you noticed & how it made you feel. 
  1. “I noticed you [took this action] and it made me feel [this way]”.
  1. Suggest 
  1. “In the future, I would appreciate it if you would do the following...”

I still get nervous when providing feedback, and I’ve found those nerves mainly stem from my assumption of how the other person will react. Assuming someone else’s emotional state is emotionally draining & creates friction in the feedback process. Learning to let go of those expectations and trusting the other person’s judgment significantly enhances my ability to provide feedback authentically. 

Figuring out how to negotiate the dynamic between our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses in our professional and personal lives is a constant struggle. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk -  balancing between keeping that asymmetrical trait that makes you special and tempering the weaknesses that come along with it. 

By identifying what weakness my asymmetric strength manifests as, comparing and contrasting different methods of coping, and enlisting the help of my support system, I was able to feel better prepared for facing my passions and responsibilities and keep my spark of being receptive to feedback while not feeling burned out. I hope sharing this story inspires others to explore their weaknesses through fresh eyes & reflect on their experiences with feedback. 

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