Your feedback to others is not the source of truth

Ouch!  Yep. The feedback you give to others, whether it’s their performance, how they come across, their communication style or even their ideas is not the be all and end all.  Even if you are the Dalai Lama. In fact, I love what he says about feedback; “What you say about me says more about you, than me”. Ponder that a little. Could this be true?

The problem with feedback is that it is mostly self-serving.  It can come from a place that says;

  • You observed something (which may be a fact or not) and then
  • You decide the impact (which is subjective and can change over time). And then
  • You suggest what needs to change

I am not a fan of this set up.  It makes the assumption that the person giving the feedback is in the right.  That’s very one sided. See my point about self-serving?

We tend to think about feedback as a give or a receive.  In doing that it’s binary already. But it’s complex right?!  Because we are complex. Our opinions are deeply laid with many filters and perspectives from our nature and nurture experiences.  Change either of those and the feedback will be different. I’ll give you a simple example;

When I was growing up I was told that if you don’t give someone a solid handshake and look them in the eye and say their name that you are disrespectful.  So what happens when someone gives me a limp hand shake with no eye contact? I’ve decided on my nurture experience that they’ve got issues. Layer this with my internal wiring of being an outspoken person (naturally) and what have we got?  At it’s best, (so to speak) a strong judgemental bias I put on that person. Or a one-sided verbal vomit and a damaged relationship because of the effect.

Oppose this with an upbringing that helped me understand that it could mean they are insecure and need support.  And add to that I might be naturally shy or not comfortable speaking up. I might think I know exactly why they have a limp handshake or think nothing of it.  

The point is – everything affects everything!

So if I come from a place of feedback being shared (thanks to my friend Justine Coleman for this description) not given or received then we have a conversation happening.  Like a dance, it’s to and for. It’s both-centred not self-centred.

I love Marcus Buckingham’s perspective on this.  He says that ‘deep down we don’t think we make very many errors at all. We think we’re reliable raters of others. We think we’re a source of truth. We aren’t. We’re a source of error’.

The only space when us humans are an undeniable source of truth is when it comes to our own feelings and experiences. They are ours to experience.  We are not there to argue them.  But to try and understand them.

Your opinion about someone’s else work, communication style, presentation, etc. is your opinion only.  Others will have differing ones. So who is correct? No one and everyone. It’s all useful until it’s not.  Until it makes others feel small or worthless.

Don’t do that.  Share the feedback and learn from each other.

Georgia is the best-selling author of ‘Fixing Feedback’ and ‘Feedback Flow’.  Stalk her here.