Posted on May 16, 2011


Constructive Criticism. Helpful advice. Wise observations. Personal reaction that helps us retool our product or our process to have greater impact. Whether we are a company looking at how to expand into a new market or one person just trying to navigate life, we are wise to consider good feedback.

In the weekly class I teach, I often seek for that feedback to know whether I am successful at sharing a message that seems very important, and so makes those signals seem very important. It comes in many forms: eye contact, nodding, smiles, a sudden change in expression denoting a new realization, a pat on the back afterward, or even the dark chocolate candy bar that I get from one older gentleman on the weeks that he thinks I’ve hit the nail on the head (when he thinks I miss he gives it to someone else – there’s incentive!)

In passing along a compliment another student had made of a professor, this professor responded that “it means a lot to mean.” I thought it was a typo, that she was saying “it means a lot to me.” There are things I keep in my back pocket – letters from my kids or friends, a note a former student wrote about how I changed the way she feels about science forever, comments people make about something I’ve said or done and how it has affected them. I think she probably meant what she said. It means a lot to mean.

This is the kind of thing that keeps us moving forward and provides excellent course correction when we are missing the boat. Unfortunately, it can deter us from listening to an inner voice that can provide other important feedback. I believe we are intended to be confident in hearing that inner voice, to be good listeners to what is happening around us, but to have a well-developed trust in our judgment. External feedback can occasionally disrupt that.

When you position a microphone too close to the speaker that the microphone is paired with, you get a very uncomfortable screech. Sometimes the responses we get to ideas we share or work we envision come from sources too close to the subject to be free of jangling perception. Sometimes we are not far enough removed to give constructive responses to others ourselves. And sometimes we need to reach inward instead of outward for the confidence or correction we’re seeking.

It’s a ticklish balance, working with external support and building internal structures, providing external support and stimulating internal resourcefulness. I think we do it best when we let it grow organically instead of pursuing a headlong quest for I-want-it-yesterday development. Easier said than done, and easier with each passing decade.

Feedback is good … and bad … like sugar – a little goes a long way – but remember, it’s addictive.

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