The Dangers of Confusing Feedback with Criticism


CoachingWhen we first developed the Inspirometer, and shared the idea of capturing feedback from others about our work and how it impacts them, the initial reaction surprised us.

We expected a response of ‘Wow, that’s great, how do I get one?’ – and indeed that is what we got from some people. But there were many others – sane, sensitive, caring people – who responded ‘Oh, I’m not sure I would like that – I don’t think I would really like to know!’

This confused us, and we spent a lot of time asking: ‘Why wouldn’t they want to know? Why would they rather continue in ignorance?’

The answer lies in how we understand feedback.

To us, at Inspirometer, feedback is simply a measure of how someone feels as a consequence of experiencing our work. It reflects back to us the result of the interaction between the individual and the service or item that we have provided, and captures it in the form of a smile or a frown.

The result may be solely due to our work, or due to the recipient’s interpretation of it, or due to other factors entirely. But, whatever the result, we know that if we can improve it over time, then we will be creating more value and efficiency out of our work, and we know that the feedback is key to our understanding and enabling us to do that.

However, for many of us, our experience of ‘feedback’ has not been so benign. It has been couched in the form of evaluation, casting a lasting judgement over our work, our abilities, our attitudes, and even our identity. It is no wonder that we neither step into it lightly, or allow simply anybody to provide it.

We have come to equate ‘feedback’ with ‘critique’, and we do all we can to restrict our experience of it to those who we respect and trust, and sometimes not even then. We are concerned that feedback will in some way diminish us.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent’.  The ‘consent’ she refers to is not the consent to speak or listen, but the consent of what we let it mean to us.

Inspirometer is deliberately limited to six expressions from a frown to a smile – why?

The answer is because we do not feel that the recipient of your work is always in a position to understand your situation, the context in which you are working, or what you are actually seeking to achieve. In some cases they are not even in a position to understand whether any perceived lack emanates from your work or their engagement with it. What they are in a position to know however is how they feel as a result – for whatever reason – and that knowledge is key to being able to identify where improvement may be possible.

The fact that improvement is possible is neutral information. It does not place blame. It does not define responsibility. It simply indicates an opportunity – an opportunity that you and your recipients may be able to work on together.

It would be a pity to miss those opportunities simply because we struggle to separate honest feedback from personal criticism or praise. “Life is interesting only as long as it is a process of growth” Eleanor Roosevelt