Do You Want Feedback?

I’m working on a writing project with a geographically distributed team. We all have full-time paying jobs and this is a professional project with no monetary compensation.

We worked as an agile team, in iterations, pairing, helping each other write the best expression of our ideas. We turned over our draft and waited for copyediting feedback.

What we got was not what we expected. Okay, that happens sometimes. And, when it’s happened to me before, I provide page numbers and/or section numbers with my comments and explain what’s wrong.

I did that here. That’s not the feedback the people in charge wanted me to provide. I think they wanted a rubber stamp of, “I approve.” Not from me! Instead, they asked us to fill out a spreadsheet of page number, paragraph number, original text and the suggested change.

When someone asks me for feedback, doesn’t tell me how they want the feedback, and then creates a time-intensive approach for me to provide feedback, I’m not so sure they want the feedback.

In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want feedback.

This is one example where I tried to provide feedback that was not wanted. I am sure we all have times when we don’t want feedback from others.

Here’s another example. I had just finished a conference talk. Several people waited for me to be free to speak with them about my talk. One woman in line told me she had a list of things I could improve. No, I had not asked for that kind of feedback! I asked her to send them to me in email or give me her list. I was not yet ready to hear the feedback.

“How can you not be ready to hear feedback from me?” she asked. She sounded a little offended.

“Because I didn’t ask you for feedback and I want to talk to these other people in line,” I said.

“Well, I don’t have the time to email you my feedback,” she said. She flounced off, huffing as she walked.

Like I said, sometimes we don’t want feedback.

When people ask me for feedback, I provide what I think they ask for. In my writing workshops, I often ask writers what kind of feedback they want from me. When it comes to writing feedback, all of us have found it helpful to specify our feedback desires in advance.

I rarely want feedback right after a talk. I’m not ready to hear it. If I had great audience interaction, that’s often enough feedback for me. If I haven’t had great audience interaction, I want to wallow in my belief that I did a bad job before I see the feedback. (The feedback is often not about my talk, but about the audience’s inability to concentrate on one thing at a time. Sometimes, it’s about me…)

You might not want feedback now. You might not want feedback ever.

On the other hand, if you say you want feedback, be prepared to receive feedback. You get to choose when you receive feedback. And, if you must specify how, please do specify how in advance.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: Do you want feedback?

4 thoughts on “Do You Want Feedback?

  1. Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

    Giving and receiving feedback is touchy, as you aptly point out. When we explicitly ask for it (and get to be specific about we want), we feel more in control. With unprompted feedback it is our choice on how or whether to perceive it and process.

    There is a time and place for both expect and unexpected feedback.

    I ask for constructive, deep, meaningful feedback from trusted sources: friends, colleagues, peers and family members. It is my choice on how to process it. But at times, it is hard to control my emotions and detach a bit.

    Sometimes the people you ask for feedback think *you* are merely asking for approval. When someone asks, how do you like my new shirt, do they really want your honest opinion? When I ask whether this bit of writing or talk makes sense or how it could be improved, that’s another matter, entirely. Then I’m hoping to engage in a dialog. Not just receive one-sided feedback.

    Your case of a spreadsheet for feedback sounds me more like insensitivity rather than not really wanting feedback. I wasn’t involved, so I cannot be sure. If I wanted to really push the matter, I’d let them know how you perceived their request. And ask, do you really want feedback? Lately, I’ve been getting pushier about such things.

    If it matters, and I want to continue working with them, I try to have a discussion about it (even if it is uncomfortable for me to initiate). If it is an one time thing, or I don’t want to make the effort to connect, well that’s OK, too. I *am* in control of deciding whether push for feedback or not.

    1. johanna Post author

      Rebecca, I don’t think it’s possible—at least for me—to detach from feedback. In the case of clothes, maybe they don’t want feedback. For this particular project, they said they wanted feedback. I’m not buying it. I think they wanted a rubber stamp.

      I tried to have an open and honest conversation, asking for data before jumping in with my opinion. The only data I got was this, “We have to release next week. We need your feedback now so we can release.”

      When I asked, “What if my feedback requires significant rewrites?” the answer was, “We’ll do that after Subject Matter Expertise review.”

      Except, the SME review is all about if we got the words right. The words are wrong. It’s a problem, which the writing team is fixing.

      I do love what you said, that you are in control about asking for feedback or not.

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