Feedback on Feedback

Virtually every day I am asked for feedback. I used to spend a lot of time filling in questionnaires, or responding to text or email surveys, until the penny dropped, and I realised that I was providing free market research services and expending far too much of my time and energy whilst doing so. 

This enthusiasm for seeking feedback is a relatively modern day phenomenon. Going back a few decades, paying for a service or commodity was sufficient in itself as long as the provider did what they said they would do.  Of course, nice people would generally throw in a ‘thank you’ and/or a positive comment, but that was that; transaction over! Perhaps this evaluate/appraise/rate culture is a reflection of the general zeitgeist in which businesses, public bodies, even personal contacts, want to mimic researchers, analysts and scientists.  So once again, the great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) knowledge empires have impressed us all so much that we want to emulate them in every aspect of our lives, regardless of context, or dare I say it, our hard to fathom, let alone measure, inner (emotional) lives. As Einstein is supposed to have said: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that’s counted truly counts.” It is said  that copying is the highest form of flattery but it might be a good idea to consider the costs of this constant demand for feedback. I can think of a few: time, goodwill, authenticity and energy.  All of these are hard to quantify  but when they are sapped it usually produces a state of feeling hollow or even disconnected. 

In their article in the The Harvard Review of March-April 2019, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall highlight the importance of personal connection and relevance when feedback is applied to individual people.  They argue that it is the relational aspects that allow us to take in what others tell us about ourselves and what we might do to change or even improve.  I find this interesting and ironic when it arising from a business context but not that surprising. What puzzles me is that the corporate world does not factor in the idea that customers’ feelings should be something that is taken account in the endless demands for evaluation and feedback. It is possible that if they were to do so as part of the overall business strategy, performance and marketplace success might benefit enormously.  

Our current social context is one in which mental health and wellbeing issues are causing great concern to all aspects of society regardless of any and all differences, e.g. age, race, gender, sexuality etc.  Those public bodies that are charged with helping to support health, including mental health and general wellbeing, would do very well to examine some the everyday stresses most people are dealing with and one of these is the aggressive marketing of which excessive demand for evaluation and feedback is just one feature. They could very easily mount a public health campaign to raise awareness about the fact that you can choose to ignore or even unsubscribe from the companies and bodies that are responsible.  They could also look at their own practices with the public and stop making all contacts with public bodies as arduous and evaluation-heavy as they are.

In the meantime I am going to apply my own rules of selective feedback.  Where I judge that a service or product has resulted from exceptional effort and/or integrity, such as when I’ve enjoyed a book or a film, I nearly always write a review, no matter how short.  And if my experience of something has been particularly good or bad I try to give some honest and constructive feedback.  In all other cases my feedback will simply be a ‘move to bin’ action.

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