Why You Must Depersonalize Feedback to Become a More Valuable Tester | TechWell

Why You Must Depersonalize Feedback to Become a More Valuable Tester

Testing, like life, is full of feedback from those around us, whether we want it or not. We often say we welcome feedback, both positive and negative, and we hopefully put on a good game face when presented with criticism against us. It’s not that we are disingenuous, but the truth is that welcoming feedback isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when we’re in testing roles and potentially getting constant feedback from numerous sources.

Feedback can come at unexpected times without warning, as this Dilbert cartoon illustrates. We may be completely blindsided, and the hair on our necks may bristle a bit, a modern day fight or flight response initiated by feelings of fear or danger. Taking feedback well, when it is perceived to be negative, takes practice, and it takes another strategy: depersonalization.


Depersonalization does something important: It takes our egos out of the situation. Feedback can make us feel like we are being attacked; depersonalization allows us to look at the feedback as data about our work and where we stand in terms of the jobs we’re tasked to do. This data can clue us in to the minds and feelings of those around us and positively influence the way we move forward.

Depersonalizing the feedback we get makes us more pleasant and easier to approach, and those giving us the feedback feel that they’ve reached us successfully. 

By contrast, if we don’t depersonalize feedback and we react defensively, the people around us will likely start to disengage, check out, and move away from us. They’ll throw us the ball less, not trusting we can handle the play. They’ll move in a different direction and not take us along, allowing us to run in the other direction until we fall off a cliff.

Feedback, whether in the form of criticism or even sarcasm, when depersonalized, can function as a signpost warning there’s a cliff ahead; it provides data points about our specific performance and direction and how well we are functioning within the team.

Depersonalization is key to our livelihood as testers because we are the ones tasked with reporting things that other team members may not like. That’s not to say we must be automatons whose only function is to make our coworkers happy; criticism isn’t always correct or fair, and we might have legitimate reasons to disagree.

But for our own success we must understand that when feedback is given, the ball is in our court to make a play. We can either respond defensively and throw ourselves out of the game, or we can respond as though the feedback is not a personal attack and think about how to apply the data in our work to make our contributions more valuable.

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April 23, 2013

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