Why is it that we all avoid negative feedback?  Is it that we crave affirmation?  Is it that we are so fragile that we cannot abide any disagreement about an idea or thought or body of work that is our own?  I understand that.  If you don’t like my idea or my work or my outfit, does that also mean that you dislike me or you dislike my judgment?  BUT…what if we turned that concept on its head?  What if we actively sought out negative feedback in order to improve?  Who does that?

Is it that we have closely associated negative feedback with negativity?  Or it is that we associate negative feedback with meanness?  Do we, like King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, fight to insulate ourselves from all unpleasantness?  They are a good example of what can happen if we don’t pay attention to the negative feedback around us.

Does that mean we only focus on the negative feedback and ignore the positive feedback?  Certainly not.  If that were the case we’d have an unhealthy and unbalanced view of ourselves, our ideas, our work.  But by that logic isn’t it unhealthy and unbalanced to ignore negative feedback?

How then, can we encourage an atmosphere of real and honest feedback?  Furthermore, when that feedback is given, how do we give proper weight to the feedback – both positive and negative – and LEARN from the negative feedback?  How do we train ourselves not to get our feelings hurt, but to unemotionally evaluate the negative feedback and search for the kernel of truth that may be lying within it?

At Advanced Dental we use a technique that was taught to me in my work with congregational development.  Feedback is given within a framework.  That tends to set it apart from casual conversation and to ask permission.  It alerts the recipient that s/he should prepare to receive the feedback in a spirit of coaching and contribution.  Here is that framework:

May I give you some feedback?  (If yes, continue.  If no, ask when would be a better time.)

When you [action word – something that happened or some idea s/he had]

I felt [feeling word – this must be an emotion!]

because [explanation].

What do you think/Is that what you intended?

Then wait and LISTEN!

There are surely many formats for giving and receiving feedback, but I really like this one because it forces the person giving the feedback to take ownership for the emotion associated with the action.  Just because a person’s idea caused me to feel squeamish, for example, doesn’t mean it makes everyone feel that way.  It may cause another person to feel exuberant.  The feeling belongs to me.  It isn’t the fault of the person who shared the idea.

During the feedback process the person who had the original idea is able to receive information about how someone else experienced him/her.  This is frequently something that never occurred to the person whose idea it was.  Feedback is really valuable.  Negative feedback is priceless.