Build a culture around feedback
Building a relaxed environment around feedback can always be a challenge, especially when working within international environments.
When sharing ways of giving and receiving feedback, I would say there is usually a missing gap in the cultural implications it has. I hate being generalistic or talking about stereotypes but it has a major impact on the way the world revolves around feedback.
Having said that, building a company culture and making the space feel safe definitely encourages people to feel like sharing their thoughts in more constructive ways, either things to improve or compliments. But that doesn't come from one day to another.
Build the environment
One of the benefits or perks that I like the most about IT life is the possibility of working within international environments. This might be due to my personality, but it is something I have been enjoying since I started my professional career back in 2011.
Since I began my IT journey I've been a person that always cared about feedback. But of course, I wasn't always good at both receiving and giving feedback, it is, I believe, something that comes with time together with the awareness that surrounds you.
In my particular case, working abroad with different cultures has helped me improve this soft skill.
Whenever I look back in time, I always surprise myself with the way I deal with these situations now, in a more relaxed and open way from both angles, receiving and giving.
The ability to take a step back and put my opinions aside If I feel convinced or I realize that I am not right about something.
Stop feeling ashamed when receiving compliments or recognition from colleagues, the same as doing it for your coworkers.
And also, from the other side of the fence, don't be scared to share and receive constructive/negative feedback. After all, most of the things that I have changed for the better came from a person sharing an opinion or advice. So we better be ready to listen.
I think in Argentina by nature due to our history, the cultural mixture we have, and the social and political situations we are in, we tend to be more dynamic/flexible when dealing with heated work situations (considering the good and the bad aspects of this).
That cultural shock was one of the things that surprised me when I moved to Europe and started to work with colleagues from all over the world. In the sense of how I was normalizing some situations that were critical or stressful for others and vice versa. There were situations where I was panicking and others were completely calm.
But what did I learn from different cultures in terms of feedback? From the challenges to the learnings, working with people from other cultures helped me develop skills that I didn't know about before.
Something that I thought was the default human behavior ended up being not as common as I imagined. You can find these in people's way of thinking, methods of organization, work-life balance strategies, where to start looking at the problem, arriving on time to meetings, sharing feelings, etc.
Just the fact that we speak different languages, with different structures, and use different methods to learn English means that our way of thinking and speaking might be linked to that as well, which adds difficulties to basic communication. As silly as it sounds it's not always easy to find common ground.
Just to put this into a situation, one of the activities that I like the most is having whiteboard sessions with colleagues (especially when architectural decisions are about to be taken) and how all the things I mentioned before are combined into a refinement process that takes us to an amazing journey and path of solutions/analysis that would be impossible without this mixture.
Moving to Europe was a big game-changer in my life. Sometimes I surprise myself with how much I have changed and how my mind is completely open now, especially related to soft skills.
In previous years it would have been difficult to see myself sharing so openly things about my feelings or anything about my struggles at work/life.
The story is different now. Even during hard times, when I notice that I am getting old or feel like getting behind, I set my mindset to be able to get the most from every opportunity.
It was never easy, but in the end, I was always reflecting day by day, week after week about my learnings. And making this type of posting did help with the process, and I truly recommend it!
Dealing with talented younger people was difficult for me, but with time I learned to enjoy it a lot! I learned a lot about their motivation and enthusiasm, something that after working in the field for more than 10 years I was lacking.
Challenging others is not a bad thing, providing feedback to people where you see the potential is something that I started doing and people normally get back to me appreciating the times I did that for them.
I can especially relate this to a particular situation when someone did that for me and I am super thankful for that. There was a time, during an open feedback session at work when I got a comment saying - you are capable of doing anything you wish for. That colleague (now friend) read the situation that I was feeling less than the rest and with those simple words, he was able to make me believe in myself again.
When looking to disagree with something, don't ever think it is a bad thing that can trigger and force others to think outside of the box. It is a matter of choosing the right words, being respectful, and avoiding demotivating and disparaging the one who is presenting an idea.
It might be that it comes along with aging and exposure at work, but the sooner you get into this the better.
To put it differently, let's sum up some of the things I have learned.
Be a better listener and don't judge others if I don't know what they have been through, understand everything about the context first. Empathy at its finest! Listen first, understand the context, and then suggest.
Be careful when giving advice, don't always share advice if the situation is not going in that direction. Don't make a situation about yourself instead of the other person when relating to similar things that happened to you in the past.
Putting egos aside, although I was never a super opinionated person, leaving that behind helped me focus on areas where there was room for improvement and things to change for the better. Not saying to become a people pleaser, pushbacks are necessary. Finally, this gave me the chance to change some of my behaviors in a way that people started to enjoy working with me a lot more.
Keep moving on
For sure building what I call the culture of feedback isn't and will never be easy, and it comes with some challenges along the way. Educating a mixed-cultural team is tough.
Just remember the way you provide and give feedback, differs from others.
There are the ones that prefer to be direct, but others that prefer to be direct only when the feedback is positive, and find it offensive to receive constructive feedback directly. We get into a lot of different profiles regarding this matter, but the focus should in finding a common agreement.
For that I truly recommend the book "The Cultural Map" by @Erin Meyer, which goes deep into this situation with some storytelling and shines in this regard, making this topic even more fascinating. Although it has the bias of the author, from an American perspective, it should have a high-level overview and common cases.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, it can help other people feel comfortable.
Don't wait for presenters to ask, it is ok to miss things and ask about them.
Try to make your comments look like opinions and not like you are trying to impose things, and please avoid making your opinions sound like facts.
The sooner people understand you are doing it for a good reason the better. Make sure you make people aware of what you are about to share. Don't lead conversations into misunderstandings.
All in all, this is something companies or even boot camps should emphasize more, and for sure one of the main factors that bring people together and keeps them motivated.
Feedback comes aligned to proactivity in the sense that if a company forces you to make 360 reviews but that is not aligned with proper training and culture it might end up into invaluable feedback, where people will be afraid to share what they think, feel guilty when sharing constructive feedback about someone because of the salaries implications, or they will not even have the tools or be prepared to make that happen healthily.
Written by Manu
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