Feedback is Important for Improvement

Self-improvement and development happens when we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and work on both. This self-awareness comes to us when we receive feedback from others. According to the dictionary, feedback means ‘information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task etc which is used as a basis for improvement’. We all do things in a certain way because we think that it is the right or best way or the best decision. At times we may not be aware of how our behaviour is interpreted or what characteristics people observe in us. We will never be able to improve or excel if we are unaware of our shortcomings or strengths. A constructive feedback or critique is aimed at improving, is impersonal, selfless and passes on corrective information. A feedback that appreciates our good work motivates and encourages us to continue doing what we did. Feedback can motivate a person to work on his or her shortcomings and build up strengths.

But criticism is also a form of feedback but not good. Criticism is judgemental, focused on finding fault and is destructive. This reminds me of Vikram Seth’s poem The frog and the Nightingale where a frog with no talent sang or rather croaked by a tree everyday disturbing the peace and annoying the animals. One day a nightingale came and sang at the tree. All the animals were mesmerised by her melodious voice and praised her talent. The overjoyed nightingale sang everyday and the frog, envious and angry, told the nightingale that he owned the tree and he had been singing for many years and was an expert. The innocent nightingale asked his opinion of her singing and the frog told her that it was not bad, but lacked strength. The frog offered to train her and made her practice for long hours every day and however best she sang, said it was not good enough. He scolded and criticised her. The poor nightingale wore herself with her effort but could no longer sing beautifully. The animals stopped visiting her. The frog was furious and told her she was not trying enough. The sad bird puffed up with all her strength to sing, burst a vein, and died. The frog, victorious in his malicious intent, took his position and started singing and was the only voice in the bog. The story teaches us that we should have confidence in our talent and be self-reliant. All feedback is not good feedback.

Therefore, there is a need to differentiate between constructive feedback and criticism, as criticism breaks and constructive feedback inspires. When receiving feedback we must consider the ‘Who’, ‘Why’, and ‘What’ of feedback and respond accordingly. ‘Who’ is about the person giving feedback – the intention of the person, credibility and trustworthiness; ‘Why’ is the purpose of the feedback, what objective does the feedback intend to serve; and, finally ‘What’ which is about the content which should be descriptive, issue based, future focused and include concrete information.

In organisations, both giving and receiving feedback is an integral part of the communication flowing through both formal and informal channels - feedback given by superiors, subordinates, colleagues and customers. However, often we do not like receiving a negative feedback as it is deep rooted in our psyche that making a mistake or being told that our work is not good enough is failure. We get upset and end up with a sense of hurt and sometimes angry. We tend to defend ourselves or go into a denial mode. At times the typical reaction is blaming others or situation, not believing, ignoring and demonstrating hostility towards the giver of feedback. It is also because our ego refuses to accept that we could be wrong or could not measure up.

But self-development and self-improvement can only happen if we are open to feedback. Giving feedback too requires tact and is an art. We must ensure that it is non-judgemental, impersonal and descriptive. And, when giving feedback ‘When’ and ‘How’ are important. ‘When’ is giving the feedback close to the event, timely feedback ensures maximum effectiveness, and ‘How’ is all about the choice of right words and appropriate non-verbals. Therefore, it becomes imperative that organisations sensitise employees to the importance, techniques and tools of giving and receiving feedback.

Feedback can be a great tool and can work wonders for us if we change our attitude towards it. The 15th century Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir Das in one of his couplets popularly known as Kabir Ke Dohe, advises us to keep critics near us, as it would cleanse us without soap or water.

by Vandana Madhavkumar