Stop Offering Feedback

by Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC on August 23, 2018

I’m sure I’m not the only one who bristles when someone asks, “Can I give you some feedback?” It’s usually unsolicited advice about something the giver feels you did wrong.Rarely is there any inquiry first into your reasoning for the behavior, just, in essence, “You did something I don’t like.” It is often focused on what you have already done, feeling like criticism for something you now cannot change, rather than suggestions for moving forward.

Some feedback is completely unhelpful. When someone writes a generality on a presentation evaluation, or passes on a third-party opinion, there’s no way to ask questions for clarification on what was offensive and how you could make it less so.

My colleague, John B. Molidor, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry with a focus on neuroscience and psychology, recently shared with me that when we hear “feedback” the part of the brain that activates is associated with flight or fight. Thus, we shut down our receptivity to what comes next, and get defensive.

Should we eschew receiving all suggestions to improve our behavior? Of course not. It’s valuable to hear someone we trust’s perspective and ideas for polishing our actions.

When someone offers you feedback, immediately ask, “What would work better for you next time?” It focuses the giver on the future, not the past, and you can then decide if their suggestion would work for you or not.

If you don’t relish “feedback” from unskilled givers, yet find yourself compelled to offer a tweak to someone’s behavior, try offering a “refinement” instead of “feedback.” You may think this is an unnecessary change in wording that means essentially the same thing, but “refinement” doesn’t come with the same emotional charge as “feedback”. Some may think this is being too sensitive, that the end result is the same — hearing someone’s reaction to your behavior. “Refinement” connotes future behavior, not criticizing unchangeable, past behavior.

I believe the initial phrasing of the offer has a lot to do with how the information is received. When someone offers a refinement, I interpret the offer as “Most everything was fine, but here’s a tiny area for polishing.” I think most of us would welcome this.

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