LET'S face it, no one really likes to be criticised. Even if that feedback is sweetened and handed to you gently on a golden platter in the form of "constructive criticism" it still stings a little, doesn't it? Perhaps it is because for most of us, deep down we all want to imagine that we, like boxing great Muhammad Ali, are the greatest. The rest of us just feel that we are right 200 per cent of the time and that our critics, that is, "anyone who dares to disagree with us," are just morons. Nevertheless, negative feedback is a real part of life, the trick is to manage it so that it works for us.
Feedback, response, reaction is perhaps the most underrated aspect of the communications process. Feedback is what improves performance. Think of how many 'iron balloon' deejays were re-directed to more fulfilling careers because of their audience response. Our ears and sensibilities are eternally grateful for their new professions.
For many reasons, though, the importance of feedback is somehow forgotten in the communications mix. Look how feverishly we work on making a presentation to the public, preparing ourselves by dressing our best and delivering the best speech ever. How often do we stop and listen to the feedback that we might have elicited? And I do not mean the back-slapping responses we get from our so-called friends who were not really listening to us in the first place. Speakers are often told that their speeches "sound good man". But what does that really mean? It is that the timbre of your voice was pleasing to the ear, even though you were chatting nonsense? If someone should ever make these remarks to you, try this: put your admirer on the spot and drill deeper and ask them what exactly they likes about what was said. You might be surprised that they might not have been listening as keenly as your ego would have you believe.
On the other hand, I am not saying that we should embrace all the 'Negative Nellies' who have made it their profession to provide unasked, un-researched and just plain idiotic feedback. You know them too, they are the Professors of Everything and they really have no useful suggestions to add to the discussions. We know at least one of these who just loves to talk. Shun them.
Real feedback handed to you from a firm, researched place of the conscience of a speaker or writer is refreshing, as it often comes with very useful suggestions as to how to develop and make improvements. It helps you by giving you specifics on what was executed 'right' and what was wrong in your approach and delivery. Such feedback is pure gold as it will help to guide you and improve your next endeavour.
What do you do when the only feedback you get is silence? You know the mind-numbing feeling you get when all you hear after you have delivered what was your greatest performance, in the same vein of Spanish tenor Placido Domingo is the sound of crickets chirping? Remember that not all silences are the same, each has a different meaning and message and it is for you to discern what it means for you. Sometimes silence may mean that the listener does not agree with everything you have said, but because there is a power imbalance in the conversation they stay quiet. You can possibly deal with this by pulling them deeper into the dialogue to bring out their own ideas and provide some balance. Sometimes the silence will mean that the other party is bored and not interested in what you have to say. They might also not understand what you are saying and might not want to offend or reveal their lack of knowledge. There are many reasons that we may get silence as a form of feedback. The trick is to examine it when it happens and not disregard or run away from what it represents.
People's reactions to criticism run the gamut from acceptance, anger, resentment, denial, or blame. Some of us who are minded to take a constructive approach, accept the criticism, examine it carefully and extract from it what will allow us to grow and develop. There is no place in the script that says that you have to take on board every minute detail of the criticisms that you receive. If that were so, all our personal ships would sink. Don't knock it, though, negative feedback has its place.
Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: email@example.com. Visit her website at www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.