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Should We Ask for Feedback?

Should We Ask for Feedback?

What did you think of today’s presentation?

I’ve done a fair bit of presenting, taught a lot of classes, and held a lot of workshops. The people who mentored me in this kind of work always handed out feedback forms, but I never have.

For much of my adult life, I have been involved in art and writing “critique circles”, wherein participants exchange feedback with the aim of improving our skills or understanding how we might be received by a larger audience.

From the perspective of the person receiving the criticism, this is a useful exercise, but I came to believe over time that the people giving the criticism are paying a high price.

More times than I can count, I’ve heard something, subconsciously dismissed it, then found it essential decades later. I could give a dozen examples using only things my grandmother told me as a young adult.

Be honest. I can take it.

If someone had asked me, for each of my grandmother’s lessons, to consciously quantify and document my immediate impression, I might have pushed potentially valuable (if not timely) ideas out of the frame permanently.

Generation, reflection, and elaboration are tools we use when we want to force an idea to take hold. If that idea is …

What do I think of today’s presentation RIGHT NOW after several hours in an uncomfortable chair drinking cold coffee all afternoon while my e-mail piles up like rush-hour traffic?

… we can expect that idea to stick like any other. If we go further and entreat others to “Be honest. I can take it”, we are setting a frame where the most honest answer is the answer we would ostensibly least like to hear. That may be the most useful answer for the presenter, but arguably the most harmful to the audience … and we’ve now incentivized the audience to generate it.

This being said, I’ve been doing things the same way for a long time. And I recognize the irony that—right now—I’m doing the same thing I’m hesitant to ask others to do. Maybe it’s time to try it the other way.