I mean, first after reading this post, but then also something else.

Hey! I know you’re expecting something from me, by some date.

You aren’t going to get everything you want, so let’s talk about it right now so you can be disappointed right now. The alternative is: you’re still going to be disappointed later, but it’s going to be wayyy worse.

I’ve been interviewing recently, and I’ve been asked about “a time you received critical feedback.” I’ve received lots! I’ve also been working a long time, and most times people gave me critical feedback have been internalized and then forgotten.

But a recent one that stuck with me was from a product manager - my partner on a small software team. She asked me to spend time on a presentation I didn’t think was a high priority. I acknowledged the request, and put it on my todo list - near the bottom. I procrastinated on it, working on stuff that seemed to matter more. The day we had to present, I threw some crappy slides together. She (correctly) deleted them and pulled in some old material to cover, and then ended up doing the whole presentation herself.

Her feedback to me the next day: Alex, you really let me down. Why didn’t you do the slides?
Me: I didn’t think this presentation was very high priority, since I’m scrambling so hard to get us to launch this product on time.
Her: Then why didn’t you tell me?

Look, let’s say you ask a friend to go on a weekend hike with you in a couple weeks.

If they tell you immediately that they don’t want to, you can

  • Find someone else to hike with
  • Ask them if there’s a time that works better
  • Ask them if there’s another activity they’d prefer

If they tell you the day before the hike, you can still try to find someone else to hike. But that’s going to be a lot harder. And if you were really looking forward to the hike and don’t have someone else to go with, you’re going to be pissed!

If they tell you the morning of the hike, and it’s something they knew days earlier, that’s one step down the I’ve-outgrown-you-as-a-friend road.

My reminder to myself

The sooner someone hears you’re going to disappoint them, the sooner they can start to react and get over it.

It doesn’t even have to be a good reason that you’re going to disappoint them! The point is not excusing yourself, the point is letting them figure out their own plan and priorities.