The Power of Feedback

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Photo Shoot in Chengdu, China

Feedback.  When it’s from a guitar, it can be really cool.  It can also be painful when the unplanned screech pierces the ears of everyone in the venue.  When it’s about something you did personally, it can also be nice to hear, or rather painful as well.

Last week, we did our first group critique of our photos in photography class.  It was fun, enlightening, and at times a little uncomfortable.  It was good to hear both the positive and negative.  It was weird to hear people describing things my photos made them feel – and how they raised as many questions for people as they did answers.   I struggled to fit my shots into what I perceived was the “framework” of the assignment; to follow the “rules”.  When I saw some of the other photos, I wondered if I misunderstood the assignment.

The instructor said “I just didn’t get what your collection of pictures was about.  It was like you were carefully crafting what you would let us see about you.”  It was weird, but in the end he advised me to shoot what I like, looked at my contact sheets and pointed out some suggestions of images that would be nice to see enlarged.  While I had mixed feelings, I will take the information constructively to improve my photography.  That’s the primary point of the class, after all.

I also recently read the feedback from my book on Amazon.  I published  Thank You Jesus  in September of last year and have donated all the proceeds to the church.  But there were two reviews that really stood out to me last night.  And while these are good, I had someone else tell me personally that they read my book often as a comfort and form of support.  They love everything but the title.  It should have been called something else.  I did’t learn what it should have been called, but it has me thinking none the less.  And for my next book, she made the editing team.  🙂

The first review that caught my attention was from someone I previously worked with, which talked about how years prior to the time frame of my book, I had been on the opposite side of the table:

Closing a factory is a profoundly impactful event for those employees who will lose their jobs. The true measure of a leader is how s/he handles a situation where others are losing their jobs while you remain secure in your position. Aaron forever embedded in me his true self and who he is, as a man and as a leader in how he handled himself during that plant closure. Aaron treated everyone impacted with the dignity and respect that everyone deserves. Years later, Aaron would find himself on the other side of this equation when his plant was sold and he did not have a position going forward. This book tells his story of how he got through that period. It is a heartfelt and touching reflection from a caring individual who treated individuals right and then had to journey a similar path.

That review brought back a lot of memories, some painful due to the loss of so many employees, and some pretty good because we managed to have some good times with a lot of the team even in the midst of a bad situation.  The other review was the most recent, and the first sentence is why I was even bothering to read the feedback:

Definitely a good read for the employment troubled times in which we live. The author is obviously mature and seasoned in his faith and uses that and other life experiences to work through his time of trial. It’s very refreshing to read about someone who actually put feet to their faith.

In the last few weeks, there’s been a handful of employees that have either left or that have been terminated at work.  Every time someone leaves it’s painful.  Occasionally they move on to bigger and better things.  They’re starting their own business, or they’re retiring, or they’re moving to a new country. Those are great things, and any pain I feel is selfish for my loss because I’m very happy for them.  But the vast majority of the time, I wonder if constructive feedback delivered in a positive manner from the right people would have kept that person on the team.    Just knowing they’re noticed helps in a large organization.

Too many people seem to wait for the “annual review” or to be asked their opinion to give feedback.  Constructive feedback in a timely manner can change the future for the recipient by working on areas of improvement now.   Giving an employee a negative annual review rarely turns them around.  It usually just has the effect of pushing them closer to the door.  Even worse is the great employee which you never even say “thank you” to who then leaves because he’s not appreciated.  These really hurt when they leave.  It a simple principle, but so powerful.

Do yourself and the organizations you are part of a favor this week: take time to give someone positive feedback.  And then take some time to provide some constructive feedback in a positive manner where it is needed.  At school, at work, in your church organization.  Even in your family.  We are a social animal.  Take time to connect on a personal level and let others know you notice their efforts.

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