Mohamed Najiullah
A Developer's Non-Dev Learnings

A Developer's Non-Dev Learnings

Receiving feedback asynchronously

Receiving feedback asynchronously

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Mohamed Najiullah
·Aug 26, 2022·

5 min read

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Table of contents

  • 1. Build safety
  • 2. Be grateful
  • 3. Peruse and process
  • 4. Focus on examples
  • 5. Ask for clarification
  • 6. Iterate
  • 7. Don’t take it personally

(This is the second of a two part series on Asynchronous Feedback that I wrote for Sumeet Moghe's fantastic Async Agile project)

Feedback is a gift which some of us are very generous with. Sometime ago, I wrote an article about giving feedback asynchronously. But it’s equally important for us to ask for, receive and process async feedback in the right way. The lack of facial and audio cues that we use in face-to-face and zoom meetings can make this challenging.

Here are some points to remember when receiving feedback asynchronously.

1. Build safety

As I mentioned in my first post, the most effective feedback happens when the receiver trusts the giver. The meaning of trust here changes according to the power equation and relationship between the giver and the receiver. After all, it’s much easier for a manager to give constructive feedback to their direct-report than the other way around. A junior teammate may, however, be wary of doing the same to a senior because they don’t know how that person might react.

This is why it’s important for leaders (team/organizational) to build psychological safety for feedback to become part of the team culture. Here’s an excellent article that talks about how to do this. To reiterate my point from the first article, once you've built this safety, it becomes much easier to share any feedback, in sync or async fashion.

2. Be grateful

“When you're doing something badly, and nobody bothers to tell you anymore, that means they gave up. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.” - Randy Pausch

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the feedback, be grateful to the giver. After all, the fact that they gave you feedback means that they are looking out for you and want you to succeed.

If someone were to give you something that helped you do better at work or in life, you would call it an amazing gift. Feedback is exactly that, a gift but in words. Be grateful for that in your heart and express it by thanking them.

3. Peruse and process

Like I’ve mentioned before, writing is a superpower. Simple, clear and concise feedback is something that everyone loves but most find difficult to give. And that’s exactly why you should go through written feedback slowly and thoroughly.

When going through feedback, especially constructive ones, control the urge to instantly respond. Processing constructive feedback the right way can help you immensely and this endeavour deserves as much time as it needs. As my buddy Sumeet says "assume positive intent". If written feedback seems harsh, re-read the document imagining that the person has a warm tone of voice and a smile on their face. If that changes how you feel about the feedback, then you may need to revisit your interpretation. Go through the feedback multiple times (preferably with intervals) and see if there’s anything to read between the lines.

4. Focus on examples

The best feedback contains examples that help you understand them. I’ve mentioned the SBI model in my previous post. If the feedback contains examples but not in the SBI model, try to arrange the information using the context to get the most out of what the giver is trying to say. Needless to say, don’t get too creative. If there’s anything unclear then reach out to the giver. And if the feedback lacks examples, ask for them.

5. Ask for clarification

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw

Like I mentioned above, simple feedback is great but not all feedback is like that. If you feel that you need some more clarity, don’t hesitate to ask for it. This may be asynchronous (over email/DM) or in a conventional meeting. For example, feedback like the following

  1. “You should take on more responsibility” - You could ask them to suggest some areas that you could do so.

  2. “You could have handled this conflict/disagreement/problem better” - You could ask them suggestions on how you could have done it better.

Whether you agree with their suggestions or not, clarifications like these will help you better understand expectations and come up with more ideas. Whatever you do, don’t act on unclear feedback.

6. Iterate

Feedback is not one and done. It’s an iterative process. You must take action on valid feedback and then evaluate if the changes have helped you to improve. Let the giver know what you’ve done based on their feedback and ask them what they think. From personal experience, this also invests the giver in your success.

7. Don’t take it personally

It’s easy to confuse what people think of us and who we believe we are. When it comes to the workplace, most of your colleagues and clients have a tiny perspective of your work and an even tinier perspective of who you are as a person. And as such, feedback from them is just about your work from their point of view. Constructive feedback may show areas of improvement in your work but it may not judge you as an individual. So remember to not take it personally.


I hope the above points help you in asking for and receiving feedback asynchronously as they have helped me. Let me know your experiences using these.

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