In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to get good at taking critical feedback.

Sometimes we need other people’s feedback or opinion on something that we are working on, this is perfectly normal and can help you improve what you’re working on. However, some people are not good at taking other people’s feedback and this can lead to negative reactions from that person or worse.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about why you shouldn’t take anything personally when it comes to feedback, how to get better at taking feedback, how to give feedback to someone so that they don’t take it personally and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:33 Why this topic was chosen.

01:04 Something Steli is very sensitive about.

02:01 An example of someone who doesn’t take feedback well.

03:23 Why you shouldn’t take anything personally when it comes to feedback.

04:05 What makes people good at taking feedback.

05:06 How to get better at taking feedback.

05:21 How to give feedback to someone so that they don’t take it personally.

06:04 What to think about when you give feedback.

08:07 Why it might be better to ask for someone’s opinion instead of feedback.

3 Key Points:

  • I’m very sensitive to people that ask for feedback but can’t take it.
  • When it comes to feedback, don’t take anything personally.
  • Start learning how to ask for feedback.


Steli: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten: And this is Hiten [Shah 00:00:04].


Steli: And today on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to learn to take critical feedback well. And to learn from critical or even sometimes negative feedback. Here’s why I wanted to talk about this Hiten, where do I start? I think one of the things that I have very little patience for, I’ve gotten better at this in life, but I’m not great at it, is people that have a difficult time. That are asking for feedback but can’t take it. It’s something I’m very sensitive to. I instantly, very quickly I shut down on this. So one second… The thing that I have a difficult time with is people asking for critical feedback. But then when I’m telling them very direct feedback, they don’t want to hear it. They get defensive or they explain or excuse or push back or try to convince me and I’ve gotten a little better. But in general, I’m running out of patience very quickly with that and I instantly disengage. I am very judgmental of this, because in my mind I think you asked me for feedback. I didn’t ask you to convince me that your idea is brilliant. And when I told you what I think of your idea, instead of being curious and asking for more of my thinking, and then you can decide what the fuck you want to do with it. Instead of doing that, you’re now spending all this time trying to convince me of something I don’t want to be convinced and I didn’t even ask for. So I get really annoyed and irritated. And I just recently had a case where a good friend of mine, over long periods of time, multiple times had told me, “Dude, I know you don’t want to give… I know that most people can’t take critical feedback, but I really want you to always be brutally honest. You have to be really direct with me.” And then couple of times after he told me that he wants me to be more honest, more direct with him. Anytime I was direct with him, he spent all this time defending his position and I was really annoyed, until I recently brought it up. So that made me think that, the truth is most people I know are not good at taking critical feedback. I know you’re really excellent at this. I think I’m pretty okay at this. I mean nobody’s perfect, but I think I’m pretty good at this. And when people give me critical feedback, you’ll never hear me argue or excuse or explain. I usually shut the fuck up and I just ask for more. And then I’ll go and I’ll ponder it and I’ll figure out what to do with that feedback. But I wonder why are some people good at this and some people don’t. What do you have to learn to be good at taking feedback? And maybe you have a completely different point of view, which often you do. And you give a lot of people critical feedback as well. Or people ask you for your honest feedback on things. How do you think about this? Asking for critical feedback and honest feedback and then how you deal with it. How do you respond to it in the best possible way? What’s your thinking about that?


Hiten: So, I think when it comes to feedback, if you’re the giver, I think the framework I use, it’s basically the idea that is outside of just feedback. But I think a very good idea in general is, don’t take anything personally. And id you take that, this is something I’m learning more about every day. If you just take that approach, and you assume that whatever someone else is saying is not personal or whatever else someone else is doing, or whatever else is happening. It usually has something to do with your interpersonal relationships and the idea that, if you have a reaction, you’re taking it personally. And it doesn’t really matter if the other person aimed it at you to be personal or not. There’s no reason for you to take anything personally. So I think the people I know that are best at feedback, both sides of it, don’t take anything personally. And so when it comes to taking the feedback from somebody or asking for it, if you’re the one that wants it, I think the only way to get better at it is, start learning how to ask for it. Most people don’t ask for feedback. That’s why they don’t know how to take it. It would be like my thesis, because if you’re not able to ask for it, then well how can you take it? Because if you’re asking for it, you’re inviting it. So then when you get it and you’re not inviting it, you’re kind of used to it, because you want it. And the thing is feedback is almost everything in terms of your ability to improve requires feedback. Now, you can give yourself feedback and that’s fine, that approach. I probably do that more than I ask other people for feedback. I personally could get better at that. When it comes to giving feedback, it’s a very similar framework to me, which is, how can I say this, so there’s the least amount of chance that that other person doesn’t take it personally? There’s a least amount of chance that they take it personally. So that means they don’t take it personally, regardless of whether they believe in not taking things personally or not. And a lot of that has to do with either not saying it or waiting for the right moment in the conversation to say the feedback. Or, and this is annoying and I don’t like it, but it does work. You just tell somebody, “Hey, can I give you some feedback?” And you open up the conversation to that. Nobody really says no. The problem I don’t like it is because, when you ask someone that, you’re almost forcing them to say yes, and then you give your feedback. But that still doesn’t mean it lands right. So I think a lot about the landing of my feedback, whether it’s a rough landing or a smooth landing. And I try to find the opportunity to make it as smooth as I possibly can, for one simple reason, which is if I give feedback and it’s smooth, they’re going to listen to it. Not even very likely. They’re just going to listen to it. If it’s rough, they’re likely not going to listen to it. Think about just freaking out during a rough landing on a plane, you just got to do it. It’s just not what you want. You don’t want to do that again. You don’t want that to happen again. I’m not trying to do that to people, I’d rather them want to hear my feedback whenever they think they need it, instead of know what I’m going to say. Or think they know what I’m going to say because of my approach to it. I mean there are people that I’ve talked to about this to give me feedback about a year ago I would say. When [inaudible] stop, I had gone really far on feedback. Which other people, specifically a few people. Can I ask my friend, what’s up dude? Like you keep coming back to me for feedback and you kind of knew me from, I don’t know, maybe like eight, 10 years ago. But I think kind of, was not very good at giving it, in terms of the landing. And he’s like look, and this really got me and it just totally blew my mind. He’s like, “Look I wouldn’t not want your feedback, so I don’t care how it lands.” I’m like, crap! I’m doing a crappy job here. Because the landings are rough, but yeah, he values the feedback. Well, what if the landings were smooth then he valued the feedback. Wouldn’t that just be a better experience for everybody? So I think on that side of it, I put the onus on myself. I’m the one giving the feedback, to make a smooth landing on it. On something that usually can be very rough because nobody really wants to hear feedback, I truly believe that. Because, I don’t even like the word feedback. I think I might have ranted on this about talking to customers. Don’t ask them for feedback, ask them for their opinion. Everyone’s willing to share their opinion. So I think one other thing that comes to mind is, if you can frame it as, here’s my opinion, that could be helpful. If you can ask for people’s opinions, that can be helpful instead of asking for their feedback. Because I think on both sides, feedback is just a loaded word. Feedback essentially means, I need to take it. Feedback essentially means that the person giving it in that scenario, thinks that they’re right. That just imply all the loaded things. Well, opinion, hey, it’s just my opinion. It’s just my opinion, it’s okay. It’s just my opinion. Here you go. So that’s a way to almost mask feedback in a soft landing, that kind of works every time. But, the better approach is just finding the right opportunity to give that person your opinion, to share your feedback and just think about if it’s going to be a smooth landing or not. And that’s what people don’t do typically when they’re giving feedback or sharing their opinion.


Steli: I agree with that. I actually think that in most cases, not always of course, but in most cases, I’m very concerned with thinking through, what is the channel I need to, what is a way to communicate the ideas I have around this, in a way that the person can receive? Because if not, what’s the point? I do want to be smooth in the way that it’s received so that our exchange is valuable for both. So I’m not really super harsh to everybody. I’m very rarely harsh. But I think, when I ask somebody for their opinion, I can have one of two motives. One can be that I want confirmation, want to be right, and I want to hear it from others to be confident, that I’m right. The other is, I’m actually curious to learn. I want to learn what am I not considering? What else could be good about this? What could be bad? What do other people respond to this? Either I’m curious and I want to learn or I’m, insecure and I want confirmation. And I think that for people asking for others for feedback or for their opinion or for their input on your ideas, your strategies, your challenges, whatever, you need to approach it, with a, I’m here to learn, not I’m here to be right. Because that’s, I think the thing that really rubs me the wrong way. Because if you come and want to have a conversation with me and I want to give you my time to be helpful, but then I realize, oh no, I’m not even present in this conversation. It doesn’t really matter what I say. This person just wants to be right. And so, they’re not curious about my thoughts. They’re not curious about my experience, they’re not really curious about what I have to say or value what I have to say. They just wanted to hear that what they presented to me is great. And since I didn’t give them that outright, now they’re arguing with me. Now they’re working really hard to convince me-


Hiten: So, I don’t even entertain that approach. So basically if I smell that so to speak, I just stop giving feedback to the person.


Steli: Yeah. It’s exactly.


Hiten: I don’t want to validate that. I don’t want to validate somebody who just wants to hear that and like oftentimes, I’ll even just call them on it. Because I’ll notice, and I’m like, okay, you’re just looking for confirmation or validation that whatever you’re doing is right. I’m not the person that you should come to. You can go to your mom or somebody else will just be like, yeah, you’re doing a good job. Because, I assume if you come to me, you actually want to know what I think. Not just validating what you think, we’re not in that. I don’t even do that for my friend. You know what I mean?


Steli: Yeah. I have some family members that I try to avoid, but once in a while, I step into the trap and I do this. But this is the type of thing that I think, it seems like we’re both on the same page where it’s like I have zero patience for that. Like if you’re just here to convince me, but you’re masking it in a, I’m here to ask for your advice or get your input on things. Then it feels like, A, a waste of my life and time and B, a not an honest exchange. We’re here exchanging ideas, trying to learn from each other. But you’re here with an agenda to convince me, but you’re not saying that, you’re pretending you’re here to hear my thoughts and I have-


Hiten: There’s a way to do that. There’s a way that a feedback seeker can do that. They can say, “Hey look, I’m pretty convinced about this. Here’s what I’m thinking. But I really do want to hear what you to say about it.” You can lay it out like, hey, I’m really into this. If you want feedback and you’re kind of… I mean, if you’re talking to someone and you know that you kind of don’t want their feedback, you can approach it in a way where it’s like, you’re coming and going out. Or coming out there and saying, look, I’m pretty convinced about this. Here’s what I’m thinking, but I really do want to hear what you think. I might not do it. I might not listen to it because I’m so convinced. There is a way that you can just be honest about it. I’ve seen that a few times, not enough, but I’ve seen that a few times. I think a lot of times to give people a little bit of credit. They just don’t know that they’re that bias.


Steli: Yeah. They don’t know. But it still annoys me. I don’t care to some degree.


Hiten: Of course, yes. Sure.


Steli: But yeah, I think most people don’t know. I think that the majority of people when they… And this is the thing that I want to highlight as a mistake to avoid or how to get better at this. And how also to make people that might be able to offer a lot to you, and are under no obligation to do so. How do you make them want to do this and continue to want to spend time with you, and hear your ideas and collaborate and brainstorm around solutions and challenges. Is by being a really good listener and by being able to take even… The best feedback is going to be in most cases at least uncomfortable in one way or another. Because it points you in a direction that you don’t want to organically go anyway. So being good at getting feedback or input or listening to people’s opinions, can be a great tool to build great relationships and get a lot of value and learnings. The way to do this wrong, which is a lot of people are making this mistake, is not to be aware that when you’re seeking out “feedback”, you are secretly wanting to be right. You’re not willing to have this person truly criticize you or criticize the idea. Or highlight weaknesses or bring up other options that you might not want to entertain. And I think it’s that awareness, that can then help people to push themselves to go, no, I’m going to put my ego to the side. This is not personal, just like you said. And my main focus is going to be, I want to learn as much as possible. Curiosity should be my main emotion here, and I should speak less. Just ask the question, let the other person speak versus being the person that asks one question. The person gives me a little bit of feedback and then I spent 30 minutes trying to defend my original idea or whatever my original point was. So if you learn to do this better, I think that, you’re just going to be able to learn a lot more. And not just when you ask advisors or investors or whoever, even within your team, your coworkers, people that work for you. Being able to listen to unpleasant, uncomfortable, critical feedback with curiosity is your main response, versus defensiveness can be a massive game changer.


Hiten: Couldn’t agree more.


Steli: There you go. There you have it. That’s it from us for this episode. Stay safe and sane and we’ll hear you very soon.