A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

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Category: Feedback

Week 3 Feedback Strategies

This week, I read the feedback articles “Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback” by Marshall Goldsmith and “How to Give Bad Feedback Without Being a Jerk” by Adam Grant.

I like Goldsmith’s idea of feedforward, which essentially states that input should be focused on what improvements can be made for the future, rather than concentrating on the flaws of what has already happened. Generally, I completely agree with this idea, but I think it has two important caveats that go unmentioned in the article:

  1. Not all things are set in stone. Stories, documents, plans, and so on can be changed, and often their revision with external input is a critical part of their creation. Focusing too much on the future can rob you of a lot of improvement in what you’re working on now.
  2. All worthwhile “feedforward” will be based on the critics experience of the other person’s past work. It has to be based in what they have already seen of the other person’s work and attitudes. So, “feedforward” isn’t distinct from feedback in origin or content — it’s really just an issue of framing.
A more accurate expression of the idea of “feedforward,” if you ask me. (Image from the Feedback Cats class blog.)

I also liked Grant’s article. I dislike giving vapid, empty feedback but often find myself in a similar situation, unsure of how to present it in a way that doesn’t feel like an attack. I’m a strong believer that negative feedback — even when blunt, unpleasant, and even in bad faith — is critical and often positive in the long run: a lack of it prevents people from improving themselves and their skills and often leads to delusions (or just confusion) that are far more devastating when broken after a long time. Given that, I like Grant’s point that the most important thing about negative feedback isn’t softening it with meek platitudes: it’s explicitly clarifying that the point of the negative feedback is that you have faith in the other person’s ability to do better.

I’ve heard the lack of that called the “tyranny of low expectations,” and I don’t think there’s any better phrase. It might be comfortable now, but in the long run, it’s devastating.

(Of course, there is a balance: if people are scared to try, that is just as bad. Like everything, it’s all about equilibrium.)

Feedback Thoughts

I read the two articles “How to Get Past Negativity Bias in Order to Hardwire Positive Experiences” by Katrina Schwartz and “A fixed mindset could be holding you back — here’s how to change it” by Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Ann Arnold.

The first article describes the neurological and evolutionary background behind what many of us notice in ourselves (if we take the time to reflect): we fixate on the negative even when, objectively, it is completely overshadowed and outnumbered by the positive. It then discusses one scientists method for opposing this inbuilt “negativity bias.” I’ve certainly experienced this effect myself, but what I found particularly interesting was the last step of the method described: “link,” specifically linking a positive experience with a negative. This supposedly both helps mentally “root” the positive by using the negativity bias against itself, while also giving the positive the opportunity to overwhelm or counter the negative.

The second article discusses how mindsets — the same ones we’ve discussed before — affect how people receive feedback. It notes that those with a “fixed” mindset can be brittle in the face of negative feedback since it often directly contradicts or conflicts with their self-perception, while those with “flexible” or “growth” mindsets are more able to handle and incorporate feedback.

While I agree with the bulk of this thinking, I think it can also be risky when taken to the extreme: without getting into any nature-vs-nurture debate, it is unarguably true that at any moment various people have differing abilities and experience, and an overemphasis on “mistakes as learning opportunities” can also serve as a cover for sloppiness, which can be unforgivable in many contexts where serious stakes are on the line.

But, in the same line of thinking, the stakes in this class are completely non-existent: even if everyone hates your story (which they won’t) it doesn’t affect your life or anyone else’s in any serious way. (It doesn’t even affect your grade!) So, let’s take the lesson and not be afraid to “fail.”

(Image from the Feedback Cats class blog.)