What would people say!

Photo: Pavel & Petruta

As you may have already understood, I bring up in this articles questions and issues that pop up in my therapy room.

This time is about “Feedback”. How do we hear and take feedback? Good or bad. How well are people prepared to hear what is told around them, in the environments they walkabout? “What would people say?”

Perhaps I should define first, what I see as being feedback. Feedback is acknowledgment. We need acknowledgment since we are born. Being acknowledged is a synonym for being alive. A living being grows and transforms itself accordingly to the environment and the acknowledgment it gets. Look at flowers and plants, or animals. They tend to thrive or to pale and disappear accordingly to the environment. If plants are watered and have just enough Sun as they need, they flourish.

Acknowledgment is “Water and Sun” for people. Humans are living beings as well. The difference is that we have language and words to define what is happening around us and to change environments if we don’t thrive where we are, or to change ourselves in order to fit the place/people around us. We change ourselves accordingly to the feedback we get and more importantly, with the meaning we give to that feedback.  

Feedback can come in different ways, and I have chosen to speak about four of them here:

  1. Verbal: we receive words coming from other people who tell us what they think about us as people or about our actions in certain contexts.
  2. Nonverbal: for some people, being ignored is worse than having an argument or a fight. Ignoring or not see a certain behavior, or not hear certain comments or suggestions are ways of avoiding conflict, or disapproval, or simply not knowing what to say. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. I don’t know who said it. At the same time, I meet people who react very strongly to being ignored. For them, a good fight/argument is better than not speaking about the matter. In certain contexts, not speaking/silence can be a form of violence as well. About that, in another article.
  3. Physical: handshakes, a pat on the shoulder, a punch or a kick, and even spanking. In some cultures, children can be spanked because people do not know any better, and parenting ideas didn’t reach there yet. Parenting is a new concept, only since about 1970 when Alice Miller’s books have been published. Alice Miller was the first child psychologist in the world and her books have made a revolution when it comes to parenting and child-rearing.   
  4. Energetically: here I consider the reputation that we can build or destroy for other people by speaking good or bad about them. Here I like to apply Socrates’s filter test. There is a story that goes like this:

Once, Socrates was walking alone in his garden, enjoying the good weather and the Sun. One of his disciples comes to him and joins him in his walk. The disciple starts talking:

  • Master, I have heard some news about this person. Wait until I tell you about it.
  • Wait for a second, says Socrates before you speak about this person, do you know if the information you are just about to tell me is true?
  • No, answer the disciple. I just heard it from someone else.
  • Well then, is it good news, is it positive?
  • No, absolutely not, says the disciple with an expression of confusion growing in his face.
  • Ok, says Socrates. Do you happen to know if this information is useful to me or to the projects, we are working on together?
  • No, it has nothing to do with either, answers the disciple.
  • Well then, says Socrates, then do not say it. If you do not know if the information is true, good, or useful for me or for us, then do not say it. I do not wish to hear it.

Since I’ve just told the story of Socrates and what he chose to hear/know about people, we see that he made a difference between positive and negative feedback. We all know, that people talk and that not all of them have heard about the filter Socrates had. Therefore, we will hear negative feedback either we want it or not.

The question is what we do with that negative feedback? Do we let it go under our skin? Or do we treat it as “information”? Feedback is, after all, information. Information that we receive and we can choose how we want to use it. We have choices here. We can listen, and see if any of that information can be useful to us, and save it for later when we can actually use it.

If there is nothing we can use, then we can just let it pass by us, and never think of it again. Yet, research shows that humans have an issue with holding on to negative feedback much longer than necessary. Humans can hear 10 good feedbacks and if one negative feedback comes along, then we tend to hear that one louder and stronger, and we ignore all the other ten good and encouraging. If we’ve been unlucky and we gave negative feedback to someone, then it will take us up to 7 or 10 good feedback so we can make it good again.

Feedback we receive usually has to do with the actions we do. In the same time, people are not aware of the way they use language when they give feedback and often we can her that we ARE so and so, because we have DONE something. With other words, it can be difficult to distinguish between TO BE and TO DO.

Often, people ARE good, in the same time they can DO less inspired actions. Our actions are our behavior. When we hear feedback like “You are such and such…” for something that we have done, the best thing is to reflect on it, and rephrase it in our mind. It is even better if we react and we tell the person who gave us the feedback something like that: “If I have DONE this thing, it doesn’t make me a bad person. Only less inspired at the time I’ve done that action”. We cannot always control our behavior and especially our feelings. When we feel strongly about something, it is very common that we act on our feelings. If “anger” is that one feeling, it is also possible that we do not remember the things we’ve done or why we did it. See previous articles about anger. Our reactions make our behavior. Our behavior can be inspired or less inspired. We are humans and we cannot be perfect.

Next time you hear feedback, think about if it is about you or about something you’ve done. Try to distinguish between the two: BE and DO/DONE/ACTION.

In case this article had awakened thoughts that may need to be sorted out, please leave a comment, or let me know in confidence and feel free to register for a free session here. A lot can be sorted out in ONE good conversation.

I wish you build resilience!


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