So here it is, I’m done with feedback in the traditional sense – an unhelpful dyad of one response/experience pitted against another. Is it a venting of an emotional response, to say, hey I feel angry about this and here’s why….or is it a here’s what I wish you would have done, a thinly disguised passive-aggressive ploy. All sounds rather negative doesn’t it? I acknowledge that there are those moments – often gut-wrenching – when feedback stops you in your tracks and acutely reveals the experience of you as perceived by others, when feedback can percolate and lead to useful reflections, and result in a change in behaviour. But all too often that’s not the case, the giving and receiving of feedback is superficial, unsatisfactory, binary and leaves us wanting. So here’s why I’m done with feedback:
Feedback ignores the power dynamic within a relationship
Which party has power over the other? The patient or the doctor? The student or the tutor? Giving feedback is laden with emotional responses to power in the relationship, perceived or real.
The exchange of feedback from one to another immediately sets up an unhelpful dyad, that one party’s experience trumps the other – this is the truth and this is how it really is. This is so often the case in academia where one party is assumed to be the omnipotent, omniscient guru of knowledge, not the biased, messy, subjective, fallible human beings we all are. If the party with no power gives feedback, how does this influence or bias future interactions – when you have power over me, why would I risk upsetting you with unpalatable feedback?
It’s unclear when feedback needs to be a dialogue
Sometimes the giving and receiving of feedback can seem static – in responding to feedback, you run the danger of seeming defensive, as rationalizing the action or approach that led to feedback, or as giving additional information that can illuminate or contextualize an emotional response? It is often uncertain when the person receiving the feedback can respond – and indeed if a response is needed or warranted. We spill out feedback without checking out how this might be received – back to what is emotionally driving the person giving feedback!
Feedback perpetuates perfection
The giving of feedback suggests that if only you had done ‘x’, then it would have been better, that a different – better – experience was possible. But experience is all experience, in its full, messy form – and is valid because it is, no more no less.
When a party asks for feedback, do they really want to know? Or do they want to receive positive affirmations of yes this is great, please can we have some more? It strikes me that the NHS Family and Friends Test is is an example of this, tell us how good you are, tell us if you would recommend us, when the reality is often that the person has little or no choice over where and when they receive their healthcare.
So I imagine a world where feedback is banished, and is replaced with connections:
"Let’s connect, and let me understand what your experience was like. What was in your mind when you wrote this paper, when you settled upon this argument, when you developed this paragraph – what was your thinking, how did that make you feel?
Because when I read it, I understood you to mean x, and I took your argument as y, and so I concluded z, and based on what I am looking for, here’s how I arrived at my assessment of your paper – this was what was important to me as an experience of reading your paper.
How has my understanding of your experience, influenced my experience – what new version of truth emerges as a result of our connection, our sharing of truth? Because there is a new version of the truth, one fueled by understanding, learning, and appreciation of the experience of others. And it’s richer, and more satisfying, more honest, and shares the power.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!