The Powers and Perils of Feedback

Day 4. Knowing when to demand feedback and when to avoid it

Feedback can hugely benefit us but it can also be costly. We need to know when to get feedback and when not to.

The benefits of feedback

Feedback can have immense power. The most successful business models are those that gather and respond to feedback. Negative feedback can dramatically hinder our motivation to try something again. In medicine, we are formally trained how to give feedback to colleagues and encouraged to seek feedback from others at every opportunity.

Feedback enables us to overcome an innate human cognitive flaw in our abilities to objectively assess our performances. It is all too easy to deceive ourselves about our performance. Feedback offers an additional opportunity for us to realise that our actual performance doesn’t exactly match our interpretation of our performance. It can force us to accept harsh realities and see more clearly.

However, feedback itself is also vulnerable to innate human cognitive flaws. It can be greatly influenced by the worldview of the feedback-giver. This is particularly seen when giving advice — the advice that someone gives is heavily influenced by the advice that they wished they had received in the past. This may well fit you situation well but equally it could be opposite to the advice that you need to hear. Good feedback is when the feedback-giver holds up a mirror to certain areas without adding their own subjectivity.

I have been told “only accept advise from someone who has achieved what it is that you want to achieve”.

Of course, we can still dismiss or ignore honest feedback. In doing so, we may miss out on a valuable learning opportunity.

When to avoid feedback

However, there are times when feedback should be avoided at all costs and certain types that can be harmful. In particular, when you are creating art. Art is an expression of your ‘true self’. Feedback from others can limit your ability to do so.

I personally find logging in to Facebook pretty toxic feedback. I’m instantly flooded with the best of other people’s activities, which acts as negative feedback by displaying all the things that I am not doing. I can get an adrenaline rush by sharing something which receives positive feedback. But in the long-run using Facebook always makes me feel worse.

Likewise, there have been times where looking at readership stats has been thrilling. A few articles that I’ve posted got far more views than expected and made me feel great. However, other articles that I’ve felt deserved more attention didn’t receive it. Ultimately, this can influence type of work I am inclined to produce in future. Yet I don’t want to making art for this reason — I want to make it for its own sake.

I find receiving these types of feedback dramatically saps my motivation to express myself. I would rather be blissfully ignorant of comments, positive or negative, than aware of them.

Therefore, during these 30 days, I will be avoiding certain sources of feedback so that I can focus on producing the work I want to produce. I will keep the sharing of articles on social media to a minimum. I will also not be looking at the number of people who read any of my posts during this period. I will not bring up my writing in day-to-day conversation.

I will be maintaining selective ignorance, not because I am afraid of what I may see, but rather because I don’t want to interfere with the process of expression.

Are you being open and accepting or feedback from others? Or is there feedback that is doing you more harm than good? Let me know in the comments below.