Two common misconceptions about feedback

After high school I studied Social Work for somewhat over a year and in that period I heard the word “feedback” more often than you can imagine. In fact, we had a whole class dedicated to giving eachother advice on how to improve ourselves (calling that ‘feedback’) and acting on it. Now myself, I was a strong-willed (read: stubborn) girl and I distinctly remember how during one of the first sessions I asked our professor:

“But what if I don’t agree with the feedback? Why do I *have* to act on it?”

I never got a satisfying answer, but soon enough I realized it was the only way to pass that class. And so I did, tweaking my personality week after week, until I became somewhat more friendly, a lot less me, and still nowhere near perfect. As I kept practicing this way of dealing with feedback over the years, feedback started feeling like one of those three-headed dragons: you chop one head off, and three new ones instantly emerge in its place.

What is feedback, really?

It took me years of self-annihilation before I finally understood what bothered me about the ‘Social Work’ approach to feedback. The problem is that our common use of the word, though infinitely handy for teachers and employers who try to shape us in a certain way, implies certain norms about the way we should handle feedback. Simply googling the word “feedback” returns the following definition from Miriam-Webster as result #2:

“Helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.”

Sounds like our usual understanding of feedback, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Two common misconceptions about feedback”