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The Feedback Trap

Feedback is a necessary part of the human experience. We need feedback from the world around us to survive and thrive. But we fall into a feedback trap when we decide that we can only accumulate feedback if it is presented to us in precisely the right way.

Today I’m talking about how we can be open to feedback in all its forms and not get stuck in the trap of wanting it to look a certain way. Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • How to process the good, bad, and ugly feedback you receive
  • Why you should assess the source of feedback before internalizing it
  • Why tone policing feedback is a symptom of the patriarchy

Listen to the episode here:

The Feedback Trap

Hello, hello!

Feedback is a necessary part of growth and learning. Human beings are constantly receiving feedback from our own brains and from the world around us.

The pain you feel when you touch a hot stove is feedback. The fear you feel before going skydiving is feedback. The performance review you got at work is feedback. The testimonial for your course is feedback.

We all know that we need feedback in order to get better, even if it can be uncomfortable to give or receive.

Most people don’t enjoy putting themselves into uncomfortable situations. We usually put ourselves into uncomfortable situations because we know that it’s necessary in order to express ourselves, grow our businesses, make new friends, learn a new skill, whatever it is. But you’re probably not sitting there thinking “Yay! Being uncomfortable is great!” If you are one of those people, you are valid and you confuse me.

I know that my anxiety makes giving or receiving feedback really difficult. When I’m facing down feedback, whether I’m the one giving it or the one about to receive it, it freaks me out. My stomach tightens and my palms get sweaty, my mouth goes dry and I have probably agonized over it for wayyyyyy too long so I’ve built it up in my head as this big scary thing.

Even though it usually isn’t. Nine times out of ten nothing terrible happens. Feedback is given, feedback is received, and we move on about our lives. 

Because that’s the other thing about feedback. You don’t have to take it. You don’t have to take heart-felt feedback, you don’t have to take negative feedback, you don’t have to take garbage feedback, you don’t have to take vindictive feedback, you don’t have to take honest feedback.

You don’t have to take heart-felt feedback, you don’t have to take negative feedback, you don’t have to take garbage feedback, you don’t have to take vindictive feedback, you don’t have to take honest feedback. Click To Tweet

You can leave whatever you want and then deal with the consequences of using that feedback or not. It’s completely up to you.

The trap that we fall into when it comes to feedback is when we prioritize our own comfort over the feedback we’re getting. Which results in tone policing people who are giving feedback that makes you feel uncomfortable.

And here’s the thing, it doesn’t even have to be feedback you are receiving directly. Watch a woman share even the smallest bit of less than positive feedback and wait for someone to show up to tell her how she’s being mean or rude or unprofessional. It could be the nicest bit of negative feedback on how to make something better and you can bet that SOMEone will swoop into the comments section to ask why we all can’t get along, or why that feedback couldn’t be shared in private, or whatever else.

And then it gets worse when people start invalidating that feedback by saying they’ve had nothing but positive experiences. Which is great. It’s great that you’ve never had a negative experience with whatever the issue, tool, person, program, whatever is…but your positive experience does not negate someone else’s negative experience and vice versa.

Your positive experience does not negate someone else’s negative experience and vice versa. Click To Tweet

And I’m not saying that leaving a bit of positive feedback means you’re invalidating someone else’s experience. Unless you are literally replying to them and telling them that because you had a good experience their experience couldn’t possibly be true. Don’t do that shit. Everyone has their own experience and you don’t get to decide what’s true for someone else in the same way you wouldn’t appreciate someone else deciding what’s true for you.

Because when you tone police or invalidate someone’s feedback you do two things. 

One, you discourage them and anyone reading from ever sharing feedback again. Which isn’t good. No one should want to live in an echo chamber of how amazing they are all the time. And if you do, you have bigger things to work out than how to absorb and utilize feedback.

Feedback helps us grow. It’s necessary to do better, to be better, to learn. If we aren’t open to receiving it, how can we make our programs better? How can we learn anti-racism work? How can we understand science and use it to inform change and growth?

Two, you prioritize your own feelings over someone else’s experience. If you are reading a bit of feedback like a bad review, a customer complaint with a product, or whatever else and it makes you uncomfortable then sit with that for a minute. Does it make you feel uncomfortable because it’s true or because it’s mean? 

Does it make you feel uncomfortable because it’s true or because it’s mean? Click To Tweet

Mean is relative but let’s say you decide it’s mean and not true. If it’s mean, you can chalk it up to that person having a bad day or not following directions and getting a bad result or just plain being an asshole.

If it’s mean and true, you can decide if you want to assimilate that feedback to make your thing better or allow the person who the feedback is meant for to use it to be better and then chalk it up to the person being…an asshole, having a bad day, again it doesn’t matter and mean is relative.

If it’s true but makes you uncomfortable then that’s ok. It’s still useful and you can still decide what you want to do with it. Feedback does not have to be wrapped up in positivity in order to be shared. 

I rarely ever see this tone policing happening to men either. And, as women, we have to do better in feeling comfortable giving and receiving feedback. Because we’re just as reluctant to give it because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings as we are to receive it because it hurts our feelings or makes us feel bad. 

Look, I know it’s not easy when someone tells you a product you worked really hard on or are really proud of isn’t great or they didn’t like it or they didn’t get good results or they felt let down. That’s not easy to hear and it doesn’t feel good. But somewhere in that feedback is a lesson or a way to make your product better. And you will never find it if you are too focused on how uncomfortable it made you or how it would have landed better if they’d said it nicely. 

We can’t get sucked into the feedback trap that feedback is only valid if it feels good. Because sometimes it doesn’t feel good. Sometimes it feels like shit. And those moments are always an opportunity for growth. 

So, whether you are the person receiving feedback yourself or watching feedback being given, focus less on how the feedback is being delivered and more on the content and quality of the feedback. That way you can use what applies and leave the rest instead of getting lost in the delivery and missing the point. 

Alright, that’s it for me today. Bye y’all.

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