Feedback: Tool and Torture

Feedback used to be something bad that happened to performing musicians. A sound loop occurred and

Electronic feedback is similar to verbal feedback

the pickup from the microphone got looped through the loudspeakers. A shrieking, whistling sound resulted. Jimi Hendrix turned feedback into an art form, the rest of us are stuck with feedback from other people.

Feedback can be great, when, like in music, it is positive feedback–it amplifies what works. Feedback can let us hear how others perceive us, how our communication sounds to others. Just like in the drawing, feedback may also involve an amplifier–something we say that sets off the listener, who then focuses on that one fact as the only fact they heard. There is also the mixer, the person who hears or gives garbled communication, resulting in wasted time and effort.

There are a few problems with verbal feedback. We can’t believe everything we hear. A listener can give feedback with a strong personal bias, and we can choose not to make changes based on it. There is the “devil’s advocate” feedback-delivery from the person who insists on automatically taking the viewpoint opposite of yours and insisting it be treated as equally valid. These people are often lack-and-attackers, and while they may be helpful, they are more often time wasters. Rarely, they are sufferers of Munchausen at work, which I’ve written about before.

Feedback is tricky business. It can be an excellent way to improve based on reaction to our communication. It can also be a perception that is the reality of the listener, and exists only at the listerner’s reality. In that case, it’s doesn’t have to be your reality, you can just walk through the feedback.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who teaches business communications.

©Quinn McDonald 2010