The Double Edged Sword of Feedback – and How to Reimagine It

Unlocking the secrets of feedback to fuel your personal growth and build trust in relationships.

The love and hate relationship with feedback

We all know the feeling when a mom or dad, a coach or a teacher, tells us we did a good job, that we played the game well or showed admirable character in a tough situation. We're also acutely familiar with what its like to be told we need to do better, that we can study harder or be more of a team player.

While positive feedback given to us years ago may still make us smile when revisited, unfortunately, we are much more likely to remember the negative feedback we've received.

According to neuroscientists, our brain processes negative emotion and fear nine times stronger than positive emotion, termed Negativity Bias. This negativity hijacks our brain and discourages us when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.

Fear is one of the greatest reasons that people hesitate to give feedback.

I emigrated from South Korea to the Netherlands six years ago. My experience becoming acquainted with people from different backgrounds and cultures helped me become conscious of how feedback operates in conversations and in the process of getting to know other people. This experience led me to seek a new way for us to give and receive meaningful feedback, which eventually led to developing WeQu. WeQu is a new way to make feedback fun, positive and useful.

Why is feedback important? What do we miss without feedback?

-Feedback is fuel for self-knowledge and growth

Your friends and colleagues can offer you valuable insights about your identity. These insights are naturally difficult to see by yourself. Our talents, strengths, and characters are often more visible to those around us than they are to us. Sometimes, for instance, you may not even be aware of your innate talent until someone says, “Hey, you are really good at . . . “. A good level of self awareness on your strengths and weakness is great foundation for growing yourself.

However, not all feedback is helpful. When used incorrectly, feedback can discourage development. Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University offers extremely useful insight into the relation between feedback and growth in her book, Growth Mindset.

She distinguishes “Feedback on results” vs “feedback on efforts and processes”. For instance, when a teacher says to a student “You did a great job, you must be really smart”, it actually discourages the student to take on more difficult tasks. This is because the student becomes afraid of failure, wishing to guard the positive evaluation that he or she is smart. Dweck calls this a Fixed Mindset, a belief that ability and intelligence of a person are settled and fixed.

In contrast, an example of feedback promoting growth is following: “This project turned out great. I loved how you invite people to talk about their opinion. You facilitated good ideas in the discussion.” This praise focuses on efforts and processes, not results. It encourages growth mindset that your qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. From Dweck we learn that in order to harness the real benefits of feedback we need to be a bit more careful and educate ourselves about how to give good feedback.

-Positive feedback promotes trust in teams

I won't mince my thoughts, we could do with more geniune compliments and positive feedback, a lot more. If you interview professionals, as I have, you will hear people say, “When things go well, there is no news, no feedback.” Or another commonplace “The 'positive feedback' did not really help me improve myself”.

I discovered that people tend to think of feedback in a very limited light, as if it functioned exclusively as criticisms aimed at improvement.

Yet appreciating oneself and others represents a bedrock in building the trust that teams need to work at their best. This is an exercise in itself, requiring a mix of empathy & attention to others' that will bring about meaningful feedback that resonates with the receiver. These are the grains that will eventually form a positive team culture. Sharing positive feedback also energizes a team and increases the feeling of safety as well as promoting productivity. According to research that studied the ratios of positive and negative feedback of 60 teams within various businesses, the average ratio for the highest-performing teams was nearly six positive comments for every negative feedback.

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Making feedback fun and useful

In designing WeQu, our desire is to help every professional unleash the power of feedback to boost constructive growth and safety in teams. In our gamified experience, we actively researched ways to manage the fear factor involved in the feedback loop while setting a true north for the kinds of feedback that actually support growth.

You can learn more about how this works in detail on our Kickstarter Page or our website.

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About Oh Kwon

Oh is a South Korean entrepreneur based in Amsterdam with a passion for the overlapping space between entrepreneurship and psychology.
Previously, he ran a social startup Homeless SMS that uses text messaging to create psychological connections for the socially isolated group in our society.
WeQu is his second startup.