Feedback is an almost universally praised tool for growth, yet it’s still incredibly hard to give and take. There’s a lot that goes in to making it easier, but that starts with developing the proper attitude towards feedback. When you understand what feedback is and exactly why it’s important, it becomes easier to give and take when it’s hardest.
What is feedback?
When you give feedback, you’re giving somebody facts relevant to them which they might not know, to help them better know how to act in the future. You know they can only produce effective results if they’re acting on an accurate understanding of the situation, which is what you’re helping to give them. At its core, feedback is an aspect of staying true to what exists and only to that – in other words, it’s a form of honesty.
Honesty is based on one core assumption: only things based on what exist are valuable – or, “that which can be destroyed by the truth, should be”. Relationships based on faked love, conversations based on faked interests, careers based on faked aspirations: none of these things will lead to happiness or fulfillment, only failure and suffering.
Likewise, things based on misunderstanding the world aren’t valuable either: love based on a misunderstanding about who your lover is, career choices based on a misunderstanding of what you enjoy doing, happiness based on a misunderstanding of how successful you currently are, all of them will lead to failure in the end. If it’s not based on what exists, it won’t lead you to anything worthwhile.
Properly giving and receiving feedback is based on this premise: “If it’s not true, it should be destroyed, because it won’t bring anybody anything but suffering.”
What does this mean for giving feedback?
Complete honesty is best. When you’re giving feedback, you’re giving somebody the information they need to properly view the world and act in it. The person who wants to be the best they possibly can wants to know if there’s something they’re not seeing: it’s only when they can see it that they can do something about it. Blindness won’t help them get where they want to go. Not knowing that you’re speeding towards a cliff won’t stop your car from flying off; it just stops you from slamming on the brakes until it’s too late.
Anything less than complete honesty only hurts. There are many situations where it’s easier not to give feedback, like when you don’t want to hurt someone. But letting blindness continue when you shouldn’t (or actively lying to keep it going) only hurts everybody in the end. You have to keep putting up with a bad situation, and the other person keeps doing things that are leading them to failure.
Avoiding feedback might save their feelings (for now), but all you’re doing is hopping in the passenger seat of that car. The person who wants to be the best would rather have hard truths and hurt feelings than comfortable lies and continued failure. They want to be successful, not sedated. When the car finally runs off the cliff, their feelings are going to be hurt anyways – only now you share some of the pain and the blame.
(It’s not your responsibility to give feedback to everybody (nor should you), but there are some cases where you should and where you’d want to – particularly if it’s in a situation affecting you or someone close to you. The rules on feedback – when you should give it, when you’re obligated to, how to give it – are a different, more complex conversation. But developing the proper attitude toward feedback is the beginning.)
What does this mean for getting feedback?
Feedback is life. It’s tough to get a proper perspective on ourselves, but much easier for others to get one on us. Since we need to be aware of ourselves to be successful, getting this outside perspective is incredibly valuable.
Feedback should be listened to regardless of how threatening it feels. You should assess it – don’t unconditionally accept it as true – but don’t push it away just because it makes you feel insecure. If it’s the truth, running away from it only keeps you doing the same thing you’re so afraid to admit you’re doing. Pretending you’re not doing it doesn’t change the fact that you are.
Appreciate those who give feedback. In a world where so many people would rather have an easy, sedating lie than a hard, awakening truth, the person who has the courage to play it straight with you despite the possibility that you take it horribly is someone who’s making a big effort to help you improve. Recognize that, and treat them accordingly.