Edit: I am not an expert on Doom Circles and I don't mean to suggest they are the best way of getting/giving feedback. I meant to post this as a description of a type of activity that won't be right for everyone (and might be quite bad for some people!). I needed a link to the description and couldn't find one online so wrote one.

History of Doom Circles

Doom Circles were first attempted at the Boston Hamming Workshop in April 2015, which was co-taught by Anna Salamon, Michael / Valentine Smith, and Kenzi (Amodei) Ashkie. This was a workshop where the organizers wanted to push people harder than usual - the name “Doom Circle” came from the fact that getting people in a circle to say what’s wrong with each other is, in general, a terrible idea for an activity! But by lampshading the doominess of the activity, and making it super clear what to expect, Doom Circles can avoid some of the emotional fallout of group critique while still getting the benefit. It’s just really valuable to know why things are most likely, or at least seem most likely, to go wrong!

Doom Circle Procedure

The Doom Circle is an activity for a group of people, each of which has at least one thing they’re working on. The thing can be professional, personal, whatever. It can be as broad as simply existing well within a shared community, or as narrow as a specific project. Each person has a turn being the focus of the circle.[1]

When it’s your turn as the focus of the circle, there’s first a disclaimer. It goes something like (to quote Ducan Sabien’s version):

We are gathered here this hour for the Doom of Steve. Steve is a human being who wishes to improve, to be the best possible version of himself, and he has asked us to help him “see the truth” more clearly, to offer perspective where we might be able to see things he does not. The things we have to say may be painful, but it is a pain in the service of a Greater Good. We offer our truths out of love and respect, hoping to see Steve achieve his goals, and he may take our gifts or leave them, as he sees fit.

Then everyone takes turns, as advertised, sharing whatever they think the focal person might fail at their efforts — called, in this case, their “doom”. Everyone has to participate, though offerings can be as short as 10 seconds or as long as 90. Nobody should go on for several minutes, though, and all critiques should be offered in good faith to help the focal person improve. The focal person can only say “thank you” to each doom.

After someone’s turn is complete there’s an outro. Again, to use Duncan’s version:

The Doom of Steve has come, and soon we will send it on its way. Like the calm after a storm, it is fitting that we hold the silence for a few minutes, in acknowledgement of what we've shared. Steve, thank you for hearing what we had to offer.

There are a few additional rules:

  1. If you have to leave partway, you can’t come back. Ideally, everyone stays the whole time, and so everyone gives everyone else doom.
  2. People can request aftercare if they expect they’ll need it – for example, they could request hugs, compliments, or a moment of silence for processing; these things happen after the doom, however, rather than in the middle.
  3. People should make an effort to be as kind as possible, while still honoring the spirit of sharing doom.

Variants

Mirror: to help handle the common issue of projection, pass a mirror around when offering dooms. After each person offers their doom to the focal person in this variation, they then look in the mirror and offer the same doom up to themselves to see if it sticks. 

Gentle: to help soften the doom experience, follow the doom with things they admire. Also, consider cutting the intro/outro. 

Fly-on-the-wall: to help deal with awkwardness around looking participants in the eye while getting brutal feedback, ask the person who's the focus to leave the circle entirely, and sit with their back to the circle, listening in silence as everybody in the circle just talks for 5-10min.

Blindsight: in cases where participants feel they don't know the focus person or their project well enough to provide useful doom, ask participants to share knee-jerk/reflex/stereotype sense of why the focus person will fail, or their first impression "I don't even know if this is even true but if I got this vibe at first glance then probably lots of other people do, too."

Should you try this?

Maybe, or maybe not! The original CFAR alumni workshop included a warning:
"be warned that the nature of this workshop means we may be pushing on folks harder than we do at most other CFAR events, so please only sign up if that sounds like something that a) you want, and b) will be good for you."

It seems useful for facilitators/participants to consider that warning. Doom circles are challenging. People get hurt sometimes. You might not want to do this or do this right now, and that's okay. You shouldn't join a doom circle unless you are okay with having a 20th percentile experience. If you choose not to participate, that doesn't make you "worse." This is a specific kind of activity that some people benefit from and others don't. Also, maybe you're tired, or maybe you had a long week, or maybe you're like "gosh I don't even know the reason why but I just don't feel like this would be good for me right now." 

I was looking for a description of Doom Circles for an event I'm working on and couldn't find one, so wrote this up. Thanks, Duncan Sabien and Kenzi (Amodei) Ashkie for sharing the history and quotes! Thanks to Olivia Jimenez, Akash Wasil, and Justis Mills for comments and edits. And thanks to DALL·E for the"painting of four people sitting in a scary circle of doom".

  1. ^

    I prefer small groups for this (Thomas Kwa suggested <6 in the comments).

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I feel like this post is lacking an explanation of what's good about this practice, so I'll share my experiences.

I think I've attended a couple of Doom Circles (weirdly, my memory claims that there would have been one at my 2014 CFAR workshop but the post says they were first done is 2015, so maybe I'm mixing that up with some later event). I've usually thought of myself as pretty thin-skinned (much less these days but much more back then), but my recollection is that the experience was clearly positive. 

It's very rare to actually get critical feedback that you can trust to be both honest and well-intentioned. The fact that it was purely opt-in and with an intimate atmosphere of people who would also hear their doom in turn made it feel safe and like there was a definite feeling of bonding with the others, in a "we're all doing a thing that might be slightly unpleasant but we also trust each other to be able to hear it and are making ourselves vulnerable both in hearing and speaking the doom and at the end we'll have gone through a slightly challenging experience together" kind of vibe. It definitely felt to me like a privilege to be able to participate.

I've forgotten most of the dooms I personally got, but I recall one I got from a doom circle in my 2018 CFAR mentorship training. I'd had a bunch of social anxiety when I'd initially gotten to the training and then it had gradually subsided over time. I think someone then referenced that and said something along the lines of "you're being too tame when you could be more powerful, you should lean into weirdness more and be like a cackling mad wizard". I can't say I'd be totally sure about what they meant, but there was something about that which stayed with me and which I've occasionally thought about. Maybe something like, even though being a cackling mad wizard isn't quite the type of identity that'd be my thing, it felt significant to hear that someone thinks that I do have more power than I'm letting myself believe, and that I could play the role of a cackling mad wizard if I chose to.

That's another thing that can also make Doom Circles positive. Because the doom you can see facing someone else can also be a thing like their own potential that they're not letting themselves see and are thus letting go to waste. Normally, it would still be weird to state that kind of a thing aloud. But if you take the opportunity to say it in a Doom Circle, it can actually become something that ends up landing as a compliment that they'll think about for years afterwards - "huh, would I really have it in me to be a cackling mad wizard?"

Thanks, Kaj! This is really helpful. This inspired me to make a  picture of you as a cackling mad wizard using DALL·E. Let me know if you'd like to see it!

That's great, thank you :D 

I feel concerned about versions of this where there is implicit social pressure to:

  • stay;
  • seem fine with the critiques given;
  • participate in the first place.

Like, if its implicitly socially costly to opt out, it's pretty hard for an individual to opt out.

I also think that it is hard to avoid these pressure-y dynamics in practice. Especially when people really want to be included in the social group.

 

I can imagine a scenario where there is a subtext of: 

"You can opt out. Of course. But, as we know, the real hard-core and truth-seeking people stay. And this social group values truth-seeking. So... you can leave. But that is an out-group thing to do. Come on guys, it's virtuous to seek-truth! And we are just providing you with an opportunity to do that! Don't tell me that you'd rather hide from the truth than get your feelings hurt."

(I'm overdoing this a bit to illustrate my point.)

Makes sense, thanks for flagging.  

I also think normally, people tend to have strong social rules in place to "be nice". When someone shares a goal they have, or if someone has something that seems to be holding them back there is pressure not to say the ways we expect them/their efforts to fail.

For example, I think one of the most common pitfalls with new managers is ruinous empathy:

Ruinous Empathy is “nice” but ultimately unhelpful or even damaging. It’s what happens when you care about someone personally, but fail to challenge them directly. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good, or criticism that is sugar-coated and unclear.

Ruinous Empathy is seeing somebody with their fly down, but, not wanting to embarrass them, saying nothing, with the result that 15 more people see them with their fly down — more embarrassing for them. So, not so “nice” after all.

A Doom Circle is meant to be a special, voluntary space where these rules are suspended. I agree there are risks and some people probably shouldn't participate. I also think it is useful to have facilitators who can share the risks mentioned in the "Should you try this" section as part of the setup. 

I'll be testing a new variant of this at an event soon so might have more suggestions in the next month or so.

Maybe there is another "gentler" variant that might involve setup with a spiciness level (like Hot Seat) or with additional guidance like the suggestions from Admonymous:

Giving admonition

Some suggestions for ensuring your feedback is constructive:

  • Be gentle. As long as you get the message across, there is no need to be harsh. Receiving even nicely-worded negative feedback can be difficult. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and imagine how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of the message you just wrote.
  • Be specific. Provide as many details as you can without deanonymizing yourself (should you wish to remain anonymous). Bad: “Your meetings are wasting people’s time.” Good: “When you arrange meetings, sometimes they are ineffective because there isn't a clear purpose and you don’t stop people who go off-topic.”
  • Admire. Just as the recipient may need your feedback to change behavior that bothers you, they may not be aware of the good aspects of their behavior, and even if they are not blind to them you can encourage them further by giving explicit praise. Use Admonymous to encourage positive behavior as much as you use it to change negative behavior.
  • Pick actionable things. Make sure the recipient can act upon your admonition. Even better, provide some suggested courses of action. Bad: "You're annoying." Good: "Some habits you have are annoying. It would help if you made fewer clicking noises, and let others speak more in conversations."
  • Don't abuse. It's easy to be mean when anonymity protects you. Remember that the goal is helping the recipient, not making them feel bad."

... replacing "anonymity" with "doom" 

The original CFAR alumni workshop had a warning:
"be warned that the nature of this workshop means we may be pushing on folks harder than we do at most other CFAR events, so please only sign up if that sounds like something that a) you want, and b) will be good for you."


It seems like the moderators might say something like that at the beginning. I'll add that as a suggestion in the post. I'd be curious if you have other suggestions for striking the right tone/setting up the right social dynamic.

Hey :) Just a data point that I downvoted this because: 
a. I would like to encourage environments in EA  which are mutually supportive and kind. I think that there is already significant social pressure to be okay with receiving feedback at any time and in any form.  
b. I think feedback is very important but generally, we want to prioritize results. How will the person getting the feedback best use it as a tool to learn and grow? What I have read seems to suggest that feedback is most effective in a pre-existing relationship of trust, and emotional, and relational security and with concrete and actionable support after and goals. 
c. I can see a hundred ways this goes really wrong. The incentives are to provide harsh critique to appear novel and insightful of the other person. On the flip side, the incentives are to be/ appear to be okay with the feedback being provided.  My general read is that consent is key here but that the social dynamics/incentives do not lend themselves well to allowing people to opt-in/ opt-out freely.
d. I know this is super unfair but... you work at CEA running events. I am worried this might seem prescriptive to the newer members of the Forum given your status in EA.      
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I will flag I don't like this on a gut level which may be clouding my judgment. The framing of what causes your doom feels very icky and just generally a bad framing for something that should be positive and mutually supportive. I can imagine this being fantastic for some people but I thought I would add some notes on why I feel concerned here.   

Thanks for the feedback! I meant to post this as a description of a type of activity that won't be right for everyone. I needed a link to the description and couldn't find one online so wrote one. It sounds like this kind of activity might not be right for you, which is totally ok! :)

Definitely not - this would be total nightmare fuel for me ;) Thanks! 

I didn't realize who I was talking to until after you sent me a DM (posting on the Forum used to be nightmare fuel for me but I am doing it more, in part because of some feedback from a Doom Circle). Anyway, I agree you probably wouldn't enjoy it. I think we could do a version together that would be safe for you, but no pressure at all! <3

I've added a disclaimer to the top of the post to make it clear that this isn't for everyone, I hope that helps!

I know right- I also get nervous about the Forum. If I were to doom circle with anyone... <3 <3 Thanks :)

I would like to encourage environments in EA  which are mutually supportive and kind.

For what it's worth, my experience of Doom Circles is that they felt explicitly supportive and kind. It felt like other people were willing to pay a social cost to give me honest feedback in a way that they would otherwise feel hesitant to do, and I appreciated them doing that for me.

The incentives are to provide harsh critique to appear novel and insightful of the other person. 

I wouldn't say that there's an incentive to be harsh, since while you are providing feedback, others will also be providing feedback to you; so if you're overly harsh to others, you might get the same in return. In my experience at least, the shared vulnerability created an incentive to be kind but honest.

I am super pleased to hear that. Seems like, despite the scary-sounding name, people have had positive experiences with this which is great! :)

Having done a few doom circles I think they're much better when 

  • there are <6 people in the circle, so everyone can feel attended to
  • I have high trust in everyone, which might come from knowing them well or having been vulnerable in other ways
  • everyone is in the right mood for doom circles; vague insecurities or pressure create the wrong mood

Oops! I intended to include the low number thing and I guess I didn't (I've your recommendation above). I'm not sure if that's how CFAR designed it but I also prefer small circles. I'm pretty sure I also agree with the other two, though I'm not sure about point two. I could imagine possibly getting good insights from someone who I didn't know well at the point of doing the circle but who had developed an impression of me somehow (I'm imagining that's what happened in Kaj's case, but I'm not sure about that). 

That's correct, most of the people in the circle (including the person with the wizard line, I think) I'd only met a couple of days before.

I know you explain it later in the post, but I would prefer that the phrase "tell the person what you think their problems are" not be used to describe people offering doom. IMHO it's very bad if people think about it this way.

The framing that seems more accurate to me is something like "why will this person have failed in their efforts?" Basically, how do you think they are doomed, hence the doom circle. You are trying to see how things are going to play out for them and should they not succeed, what happened?

Thanks! Edited in the main post. Please let me know if you see other things I should change. I was wanting a link to Doom Circles for an event and didn't find one, so wrote this up and pushed it so it would be available to link to in an email. I'm guessing I missed a bunch/phrased some things in suboptimal ways  :).

Possibly important or useful points:

  • In my version, the introducer of Doom Circles said something like: "You might do this with some people you know well and some people you don't know well. The people you don't know well will offer first or second impressions, and this can be useful too. But you are not obligated to accept any of the Dooms. In my experience, the people you know will have a "hit rate" of around 60% and the people you don't will be around 30%." It seems important that you should expect some of the Doom to just not feel particularly accurate, or to result from the Doom-Sayer's own emotional state or weird takes or something. You're there to gather information about what the particular people in the room would say under these exact conditions, not to discover the absolute truth about what everyone thinks of you.
    • In my case, the people I didn't know that well said some things that I attributed to them just not knowing my field and disregarded.. But they also had surprising and overlapping negative aspects of their first impressions that were really helpful, that hadn't been on my radar, and that I then put effort into fixing. I think I benefited a lot from this.
  • Sometimes, it will be really obvious to me that someone has a much better path to impact than the path they seem to be on, or they're equivocating between a few but not choosing the one that's their clear (to me) comparative advantage, but there is no social circumstance where it would be polite or normal to say this kind of thing to them. This is the kind of problem that Doom Circles are kind of meant to solve. But while you could in theory frame "you're not doing the clearly best thing for you" as a Doom, but somehow Doom Circles don't tend to produce this kind of thing. I would be interested in supplementing (or sometimes replacing) Doom Circles with "Victory Circles," where everyone goes in a circle and says "This is the path by which I think, if in 30 years [X] has accomplished all their goals, they will have done it.
  • In the settings where Doom Circles have been available to me, they were very much an opt-in process. To join, one would have to leave the default activity to go do it, and then organizers made efforts (I think successfully) to enable people to frictionlessly leave after hearing the description if they decided not to do it. I don't think this is a foolproof way to remove all social pressure and agree that it sounds (partly because of the name) somewhat culty, but I think it's not nearly as bad on these metrics as some of the other commenters say.

I'm struggling to understand why anyone would choose one big ritual like 'Doom circles' instead of just purposefully inculcating a culture of opennes to giving / receiving critique that is supportive and can help others? And I have a lot of concerns about unintended negative consequences of this approach. 

Overall, this runs counter to my experience of what good professional feedback relationships look like; 

  • I suspect the formality will make it feel weirder  for people who aren't used to offering feedback / insights to start doing it in a more natural, every day way;  because they've only experienced it in a very bounded way which is likely highly emotionally charged. They might get the impression that feedback will always feel emotional, whereas if you approach it well it doesn't have to feel negatively emotional even when some of the content is less positive.
    • there should be high enough trust and mutual regard for my colleague to say to me "you know what? You do have a bit of a tendency to rush planning / be a bit rude to key stakeholders and that hasn't worked so well in the past, so maybe factor that into the upcoming projects"
  • low-context feedback is often not helpful; this is because someone's strengths are often what could 'doom' them if over-relied upon, and different circumstances require different approaches. This sounds like feedback given with very little context - especially if limited to 90 seconds and the receiver cannot give more context to help the giver.
  • feedback is ultimately just an opinion; you should be able to take and also discard it. It's often just based on someone's one narrower vantage point of you so if you get lots of it it will necessarily be contradictory. So if you acted on it all, you'd be screwed. This sounds like a fetishisation / glorification of the feedback given; which would then make it harder for the receiver of doom to assess each bit on it's merits, synthesise and integrate it better because of this.

A younger version of myself with less self-esteem would have participated and would have deferred excessively to others views even if I felt they had blindspots. I think I would integrate all of the things I heard, even if they were things I thought were likely not true on balance, and that these would rebound in a chorus of negative self-talk. But I think part of the attraction for me to Doom Circle's would have been:

  • all these smart people do it; there must be something to it
  • feeling like I must not be 'truly committed to sef-improvement' if I don't want to participate
  • and, in a small part, the rush / pain of hearing 'the truth', a form of psychic self-harm like reading a diary you know you shouldn't

Now, I think I would just refuse to do this and rather put forward my counter-proposal, which would look be more sharing reflections on each others traits / skills, what could enable us and hold us back, and two-way dialogue about this to try and figure out what is / isn't.  And doing so regularly - build up of negativity is always damaging when it eventually comes out, but also why hold back on the positivity when it's a great fuel for most people?

why anyone would choose one big ritual like 'Doom circles' instead of just purposefully inculcating a culture of opennes to giving / receiving critique that is supportive and can help others?

These don't sound mutually exclusive to me; you can have a formal ritual about something and also practice doing some of the related skills on a more regular basis.

That said, for many people, it would be emotionally challenging if they needed to be ready to receive criticism all the time. A doom circle is something where you can receive feedback at such a time when you have emotionally prepared for it, and then go back to receiving less criticism normally.  

It might be better if everyone was capable of always receiving it, but it's also good to have options for people who aren't quite there yet. A doom circle is a thing that can be done in less than an hour, whereas skill-building is much more of a long-term project.

low-context feedback is often not helpful

That's true, but also: since people generally know that low-context feedback can be unhelpful, they might hold back offering any such feedback, even when it would be useful! Having an explicit context for offering the kind of critical feedback that you know might be incorrect gives people the chance to receive even the kinds of impressions that they otherwise wouldn't have the chance to hear.

feedback is ultimately just an opinion; you should be able to take and also discard it. 

Yes, in any well-run doom circle, this exact thing would be emphasized in the beginning (levin mentioned this in their comment and it was probably done in the beginning of the circles I've participated in, as well; I don't remember what the exact preliminaries were, but it certainly matches my general sense of the spirit of the circle).

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear you feel more comfortable setting boundaries now. I think it is a good flag that some people might not be in a place to do that, so we should be mindful of social / status dynamics and try our best to make this truly opt-in.

I agree there are other types of feedback that are probably better for most people in most cases, and that Doom Circles are just one format that is not right for lots of people. I meant to emphasize that in the post but I see that might not have come through. 

Thanks for your open and thoughtful response.

Just to emphasise, I would bet that ~all participants would get a lot less value from one / a few doom circle sessions than they would from:

  • cultivating skills to ask / receive feedback that is effective (with all the elements I've written about above) which they can use across time - including after leaving a workshop, and / or;
  • just a pervasive thread throughout the workshop helping people develop both these skills and also initiate some relationships at the workshops where they can keep practising this feedback seeking / giving in future.

I did loads of this kind of stuff on (granted, somewhat poorly executed) graduate schemes and it proved persistently valuable, and helped you get 'buddies' who you could be this open, reflective and insight-seeking with.

I agree there are other types of feedback that are probably better for most people in most cases, and that Doom Circles are just one format that is not right for lots of people. I meant to emphasize that in the post but I see that might not have come through. 

I feel like I would re-edit this post maybe to emphasise "this is an option, but not necessarily the lead option", because its original positioning feels more like it's a canonical approach?

I'm glad to hear you feel more comfortable setting boundaries now. I think it is a good flag that some people might not be in a place to do that, so we should be mindful of social / status dynamics and try our best to make this truly opt-in.

Sadly I think I would have been a fairly good example of most younger EAs still forging their sense of self and looking for belonging to a community; in particular the kinds of people who might feel they need this kind of feedback. So if these are going to be run up again, I'd think reflecting on this in setting terms / design would be useful.

Thanks for the follow-up! I'm working on a different format that I think might address some of your concerns (I posted this quickly to link to it in an email about the new format). 

I agree I should add a caveat above. It seems like you and others are getting the impression that I think this is the best way to get feedback/I'm an expert on Doom Circles (which is understandable, since I chose to post about them!). I'll write something quickly now (I don't have childcare at the moment, so might make changes next week). 

Also agree I could have done more to explain the importance of setting norms. I'll make a note to revisit next week when I have more time. 

Really appreciate you pushing to make sure I understood the feedback :) 

My gut reaction is this sounds pretty unpleasant. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the sort of feedback you'd expect to share in such a situation; could you perhaps give some examples?

To be clear, I think it can be unpleasant! The vibe can be something like "speak the truth even if your voice trembles" or it can be more gentle, depending on the participants and their preferences. 

Some things I wrote down from my last doom circle:

  • I don't write enough / share my models enough
  • I don't make time/money tradeoffs enough
  • Something about my Midwestern accent might make people underestimate me
  • People feel confused about why I don't live in a hub and this might make them think I'm not serious
  • I should consider spending more time learning about technical topics
  • I don't prioritize my physical health enough, buy professional clothes, etc and this might make people underestimate me
  • I sometimes don't use reasoning transparency enough, which can make it hard for people to understand why I think certain things


None of this felt particularly hard to hear for me. If people had gone on and on about the appearance stuff or said it in deliberately hurtful ways  I'd probably have gotten pretty tired of it. I've made a bunch of changes as a result of this feedback, so it was quite useful to me and worth the discomfort. But YMMV!

I really admire you have shared personal examples. Makes this way more tangible.

I see you that in the description wrote that you should only say "thank you", but isn't it sometimes a bit risky to not discuss the feedback?

It seems that someone's model of you may be quite off because they miss some context that you have or because of their biases. For example reading the feedback you've received made me think that some of that could be quite distorted by preferences of the giver.

Or do you do discuss it later on?

It's my impression that in writing workshops where people bring their writing to be criticized, it's also a common rule that the writers are not allowed to respond to the feedback. I believe the rule exists exactly because of what you say: because another person's feedback may be off or biased for a variety of reasons. If there was a discussion about it, the recipient of the feedback might get defensive and want to explain why the feedback was flawed. That would risk the conversation taking an unpleasant tone and also any correct feedback not being properly heard.

When the rule is instead "you are required to listen to the feedback, but it's then totally up to you what you do with it and can choose to ignore it as totally deluded if you wish", that gives people the full license to do so. Unfair-feeling criticism won't put them in a position where they have to choose between defending themselves and losing face - not defending yourself won't make anyone lose face since nobody is allowed to defend themselves. That helps make it easier to consider whether some of the unfair-seeming criticism might actually have a point. And on the other hand, if the criticism really was unfair, then someone defending themselves might give the other people the temptation to argue against the defense in order for them to save face and justify their criticism as correct... and someone trying to argue to you that no really, you really are doomed (or "your writing really is bad"), would totally break any atmosphere of mutual kindness and support.

Thanks for the answer. I think I got it more and I find the reasoning convincing, but in the end it seems to be then quite dependent on the context.

I find what you said optimal in not-so-ideal psychological safety environment, but with teams high in psychological safety it's not really about things you listed, like

Unfair-feeling criticism

but rather truth-seeking approach to make sure we are really elevating the person. For this two-sided communication performs better.

Anecdotally, from my perspective in public feedback rounds it's not so much defense, but more like "I think you are onto something, but consider this... ". Which seems to me a bit more productive and optimal for the person than just listening. Then the two models can inform each other. For an extreme outcome example on one of such rounds in a team - one person criticized public speaking skills of one person and said the person should speak more. But after discussion we all agreed that it was not a good strength to invest in for that person and their comparative advantage lies elsewhere, so in the end it's not a good feedback. So the giver was missing some crucial considerations that indeed changed that person's feedback. I found it way more productive than I would find a one-sided communication. I also think if it's done with compassion and intent to help each other then it shouldn't break the atmosphere.

But after your and Amy's answers, I get now that it's a bit different environment that Doom Circle aims to create. It seems to me that Doom Circle requires less vulnerability thanks to these rules which makes sense, especially for less psychologically safe teams. So this seems good for people that know each other less.

Thanks, Jakub! 

I can't remember discussing feedback that I thought was wrong (and I agree with the reasons Kaj shares about why this can be disruptive during the Doom Circle). I have followed up with people about feedback that I thought was apt/useful to get more information. In a couple of cases, after discussing further, the person offered to help me address something they raised and I took them up on it :) 
 

Various people have posted concerns about social dynamics below (particularly that there might be an impression, intentional or otherwise, that people opting out were deficient* in some way). I think these concerns are worth taking seriously. I’ve been on the receiving end of mostly negative, anonymous, unsolicited feedback, which was at least in part about things that I was aware of but which were outside my control. This made me feel bad not only because of the negative things the feedback mentioned, but also about not being the sort of person who welcomed feedback like that. I think my intuitive reaction to first reading the post was kind of along those lines, causing me to not actually comment the following when I first saw the post, as it felt like it reflected badly on me.

  • I would hate this.
  • I’m trying to get better at responding well to feedback, but I don’t see any remotely possible worlds where I would make enough progress for this to be anything other than awful for me.
  • I feel stressed just thinking about it.

     

I don’t know if it was a mistake to post (I can imagine the process being really valuable for some people), and I haven’t up or downvoted. I made myself write this mostly because I expect many people who feel similar will read and not want to post, for the same reason I didn’t want to, and seeing the couple of comments from people who did post feelings like this made me feel better about my reaction.

*bad at truth seeking, not rational enough, too soldier-y etc.


 

I'm really you've had a bad experience with negative, anonymous, unsolicited feedback and then felt bad about feeling bad. That sounds really tough. 

I'm glad you decided to post and wanted to reply to say thanks for sharing your experience. Given how tough negative feedback has been for you in the past I think that was brave, so wanted to reply and upvote to thank you. It sounds like a Doom Circle would not be a good fit for you and that's totally ok. I think having good self-knowledge and setting boundaries is great :) 

Seems like the opposite of crewing where "each person would bring some problem they were working on to the group, and receive 90 minutes of undivided attention from their peers" - maybe it could be combined.

Thanks! I'm actually working on a moderated, project-focused version for an upcoming event. That's what motivated me to look for a description of Doom Circles. I'll check this out :) 

Does anyone have an idea why doom circles have been so successful compared to the opposite type of circle where people say nice things about each other that they wouldn't normally say?

Relatedly, I have a hypothesis that the EA/rationalist communities are making mistakes that they wouldn't make if they had more psychology expertise. For instance, my impression is that many versions of positivity measurably improve performance/productivity and many versions of negativity worsen performance (though these impressions aren't based on much research), and I suspect if people knew this, they would be more interested in trying the opposite of a doom circle.

As a teacher, I've generally found it to be the case that specific positive feedback ("keep doing this!") is the most useful way of improving someone's performance, followed by specific advice ("you could achieve X if you tried Y", "why not experiment with Z and see if it helps?").

If this were focused on red-teaming a particular project, it sounds more useful, but I don't understand why it would be described as a doom circle then!

Thanks! Doom Circles are a specific format that CFAR came up with years ago. I didn't mean to suggest that this is the best format or the best way of giving feedback. But it is one that I've found useful sometimes and I wanted a link to use as a reference :)

I'm working with a colleague on a format that is closer to a combination of this and red-teaming a particular project. If it goes well I might post about that as well (I needed a link to Doom Circles for an email about the new format, which is what prompted this post). 

Makes sense, it's always nice to have a reference to link to

I'm not familiar with the opposite type of circle format. I have a few events coming up over the next month, so might not get back around to this, but I'd like to put more thought into a format like this. 

A couple of things that I have done that come to mind: 

  • At a recent retreat, a colleague and I ran something like a doom circle followed by "gratitude/excitement" circles and I quite liked it. 
  • In the "gentle" doom circle I described above we did something like an even split of doom followed by saying nice things. I found the nice really helpful too because I had blindspots about positive things that others in the group could see more easily. 


Another thing that comes to mind is a quote from the Manger's Handbook "It's downright criminal to hold back positive feedback from people. Don't be afraid to praise even tiny things. Remember that when you give negative feedback you're generally picking up on tiny things."

Thanks for raising this. I'll be curious to hear if other people have done things in this direction. 
 

I'm not familiar with the opposite type of circle format

Me neither really - I meant to refer to a hypothetical activity.

And thanks for the examples!

This sounds really culty from the description. Why are the ceremonial framing and strict rules (e.g. not leaving and coming back, not speaking other than saying thank you) needed?

Yeah, I can see why you say that. I actually don't think I've done one with the ceremonial framing but I was trying to make a linkable description of Doom Circles, so I got information from folks who worked at CFAR. I would be interested in trying one with the framing, but I think I'd be too bashful to say the words he used myself :) 

The original CFAR alumni workshop included a warning:
"be warned that the nature of this workshop means we may be pushing on folks harder than we do at most other CFAR events, so please only sign up if that sounds like something that a) you want, and b) will be good for you."

 

I'm struggling to understand the motivations behind this. 

Reading between the lines, was there a tacit knowledge by the organisers that this was somewhat experimental, and that it could perhaps lead to great breakthroughs and positive emotions as well as the opposite; but could only figure it out by trying?

The reason this feels so weird to me - especially the 'pushing on folks harder' - is because I know there are many ways to enable difficult things to be said and heard without people feeling 'pushed on'; in fact, in ways that feel light! Or at least you can go into it knowing it can go either way, but with the intention of it not feeling heavy / difficult; but it sounds like heaviness / 'pushing on people' in explicitly part of the recipe? That feels unnecessary to me...

Grateful for illumination from whoever it comes from!

Copying from the link, I think they were pretty explicitly doing something experimental. I wasn't involved in the workshop, I suppose they found the previous experiment with Hamming Circles useful and wanted to try a variation: 

The mathematician Richard Hamming allegedly liked to bother his colleagues at Bell Labs, as follows. First, he would ask a given fellow, "What are the most important questions in your field?" And then, after the poor fellow answered, he would follow up: "And why aren't you working on them?" (The full story here; an interesting alternate take on how to work on important problems, from Richard Feynman, which we'll also be incorporating)

We will spend the weekend following Hamming's fine example. We will ask ourselves "What are the most important questions in our lives (or in our organizations/work), and why aren't we working on them?" We'll also bring CFAR standard tools, and some new ones, to bear on this question. The goal is to send us all forth, at the end of the weekend, to make real progress on the problems that matter most to each of us (for both our own lives, and the world).

This workshop will be in the same spirit as the previous alumni-only Hamming workshop, but we expect the content to be once again quite experimental - a lot of the things we tried out in the last Hamming workshop ended up getting folded in to the regular 4-day workshops, so we'll be building on that further body of experience, and probably trying out a bunch of new ideas. It will be raw, it will be unpolished, and it will probably be really interesting. In particular, be warned that the nature of this workshop means we may be pushing on folks harder than we do at most other CFAR events, so please only sign up if that sounds like something that a) you want, and b) will be good for you.