Feedback: corrective or criticism?

Feedback is there to help you and not to hurt you.  And yet, many people seem offended when points out problems.

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Feedback as criticism

I recently asked a question on Twitter and (perhaps I could have phrased it better) and got attacked in response.

A minor celebrity put up a post in which was mentioned “table d’haute”; I replied with the statement “‘table d’hôte’ surely?”.  The response I received was that it was unacceptable for me to correct a person with Parkinson’s disease.  I received further comments from his followers attacking me for being mean and petty, congratulating him on his “superior way of putting people back in their box”, asking me what pleasure I derived from pointlessly correcting people, etc.  One person sent me the following message:

“Is the buzz you get from correcting someone better or worse than the guilt of highlighting someone’s struggle for no good reason? If yes, then continue down your current path, but my God it sounds dark and lonely.”

The original person, the one who had originally confused the two homophones in a language that was not his, is a man whom I respect and I really expected a reply something like “oops, yes, of course”, instead of publicly complained about my lack of EQ for attacking a man with Parkinson’s.

Feedback as risk management

I am currently reading the brilliant book “No Rules Rules” by Reed Hastings, CEO and founder of Netflix, and Erin Meyer, whose book “The Culture Map” is a must-read for anyone working internationally.

Reed Hastings promotes candid feedback at every level within his organisation.  He believes that being told what worked well or badly is of great benefit to the organisation:

“A feedback loop is one of the most effective tools for improving performance. We learn faster and accomplish more when we make giving and receiving feedback a continuous part of how we collaborate. Feedback helps us to avoid misunderstandings, creates a climate of co-accountability, and reduces the need for hierarchy and rules.”

Years ago, I had developed the design for an international accounting software, calculating taxes as needed for any sale, including the rules for sales tax, VAT, GST and PST, and others.  I presented it to the team and asked them to rip holes in it and tell me why the system was not ideal, what would not work, what were the mistakes.  The team hesitated and thought that I was fishing for compliments until I insisted that as long as the concepts were only ideas on paper, it was easy to correct.  Later, it will become very onerous if it doesn’t work.

Feedback as critique

There are two classes of feedback:

  1. Comforting feedback tells you what a great person you are, gives you a warm feeling for a few moments, but are largely useless.
  2. Constructive feedback tells you what you need to check, correct, improve, change.  It may be hard to hear, but the correct response to any feedback perceived as “negative” should be to look into what was misunderstood or construed, what lessons are to be learned, and how you can improve.

Of course, one’s ego frequently stands between hearing the feedback and understand it’s benefits.  This rapidly becomes a problem in which people do not dare point out to their managers or others where things are going wrong and need correction, or even report risks to their hierarchy.

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