#28 - How to Give and Take Feedback ⚖
The Feedback Salience Matrix and the Half-life of Approval
Happy Wednesday and welcome to another edition of Long Way Home🏡. A special welcome to the two new subscribers since last week, bringing the total up to 85.
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In this week's LWH🏡:
💫 - How to Give and Take Feedback by Vandan Jhaveri
🎥 - Rap Radar: Drake by Rap Radar
🎙 - Dissect: S8E1 - Kanye West: YEEZUS on Spotify
Let’s get into this week’s essay.
How to Give and Take Feedback
As humans, we are bad at feeling good.
Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution has made us distrustful and pessimistic. Despite keeping us alive, this inbred skepticism encourages us to readily accept negative conclusions others may have about us and to resist the positive ones. In our deeply complex world, this skepticism can do more harm than good.
Success, nowadays, finds those unafraid to experiment and explore often, and this negative default setting bugs our operating systems and makes us stagnant. We struggle to look past our fears to identify the opportunity beyond.
Types of Feedback
Creativity is uncertainty. The moment we show somebody a new attempt at something, we are vulnerable. We’re unsure of its value and we need others to help validate our own opinions. This critical juncture can be the difference between doubling down with new fervour or abandoning the project altogether.
I've noticed, however, that the positive comments somebody makes at that critical juncture must be refreshed and reinforced often, whereas the negative comments somebody might make at that same moment seem to have an infinite shelf-life. They are not going anywhere. Unlike negative feedback, it's as if positive feedback has a half-life, decomposing at an accelerating rate as time passes.
This has major implications for both approval seekers and the approval givers. To explain how, I need to explain how I think our brains process positive and negative feedback with something I am coining as the Feedback Salience Matrix. In the table, the lighter the square, the more forgettable the feedback, and the darker the colour, the more salient and emotionally impactful the feedback.
For clarity, I am listing the components of the table from lowest salience to highest salience.
Negative feedback about character
Negative feedback about behaviour/action/product
Positive feedback about character
Positive feedback about behaviour/action/product
The scope of the feedback indicates whether the target of the feedback is the act or the actor. Comments can have a small scope, singling out a behaviour, idea, or action, or comments can have large scopes, broadening to include somebody's character. For example, "This was really well-written" vs. "You're a great writer." The first focuses on the writing itself while the latter praises the person who did the writing. When feedback targets our personality traits and skill sets (character), we integrate those comments into our identity. We feel like everything we produce is imbued with that competency and effective style. We allow this feedback to then inform our self-talk, which has massive implications.
When we are told that something we wrote was really good, our minds don't compute that as personal feedback. We see that as somehow removed from who we are. It's easy for us to discount the act as a fluke. Even if we repeat it multiple times, we will see ourselves as somebody who wrote a few great things, for example, instead of a great writer. The two are worlds apart.
The Increasing Negativity of Feedback axis in the matrix is self-explanatory, but as you might notice, there's a slight difference in salience between "positive feedback on character" and "negative feedback on behaviour". Interestingly, "You're a great writer" and "This essay drags on far too long" feels like they have the same emotional weight, just in opposite directions, despite one complimenting character and the other criticizing a piece of content. This highlights the corrosive potential of a negative comment. It takes numerous positive comments about our character to cancel out the detrimental effects of content-specific criticisms.
For Approval Givers
It's important for us to remember this hierarchy if we want to give lasting feedback that has the intended consequences. As a general rule and when possible, compliment character and criticize content. With the way that we are wired, consistent positive feedback that targets our identity will have the same emotional impact as the occasional negative comment aimed at the content. Think "You're a great cook" vs "This dish is delicious", "Thanks for being an honest person." vs "Thanks for telling the truth", "Your home is beautiful, you have such good taste." vs "You did a fantastic job decorating."
Of course, there's so much nuance baked into the situations in which we find ourselves. and it won't always be appropriate or possible to give character-specific feedback. There's usually at least one opportunity to sneak in a character-focused comment, however, which can, among other comments, empower others to tackle uncertainty yet again.
For Approval Seekers
Keeping this hierarchy top of mind will help us counteract its grip on our psyche. Like previously mentioned, our minds have pre-installed biases that distort reality. The original purpose is to protect us, but amidst the world's complexity, these biases don't always serve us. Understanding this, we must remember our vulnerability to negative comments and our tendency to discredit the validity of positive ones.
In some ways, we need to overcorrect for the damage our biases can do. That means downplaying negative feedback, focusing on positive feedback, and telling ourselves that our efforts are worth it because we are creating something worthwhile. Once we get into the habit of doing this, most of us will have a more accurate impression of our skills and capabilities than before. The vast majority of us have horrid self-talk, compounding our biases and scaring us back into the conformity from whence we came.
Typical ways of doing business, making friends, and finding fulfillment are growing obsolete. Trying something new and iterating based on feedback is an ancient formula that is slowly becoming ubiquitous. The internet has changed everything.
The only way we are going to learn how we fit into this global revolution is if we try something different and see how people respond to it. Receiving feedback is hard work though. It's a skill all on its own. For most of us, feedback is crushing. The dream that motivated our first attempt seems otherworldly when we see how people react to our work. We forget that’s a part of the journey.
The secret they never tell us: being bad is a necessary step on the journey to being good. And allowing others to hold a mirror to our work is the only way we can truly evaluate our progress. So let’s take a step into the unknown, and allow feedback to guide our next step on this scary but necessary journey of uncertainty.
🎥 - 6 God
This 2.5-hour Drake interview was posted on YouTube at the end of 2019, but I didn't watch it until just this past week. I've always been a massive Drake fan. I think it's impossible to not be.
Watching the interview now, it's hard not to think about how his musical output would have been different this past year had the pandemic not changed everything. One thing I've always admired about Drake is how he isn't afraid to be himself. In the hyper-masculine rap world (to which Drake also certainly contributes), he isn't afraid to crack jokes, admit insecurity, and honour the help he's received over the years.
Some celebrities feel like aliens. There's a permanent wall between their humanity and us, the viewers. I don't feel that separation when he speaks, and I think that's incredible, despite everything he's done and been through.
One major take-away for me from the interview is how relentless his work ethic is. How he's able to remain that focused and that dedicate despite literally an entire world of distraction is beyond me. But that's what it takes to be Drake, and that's why he's there.
Also, hats off to the fantastic interviewers. They didn't shy from tough or awkward questions, and that must be hard to do when you're talking to the biggest artist in the world.
🎙 - Dissected
One of my favourite podcasts of all time is called Dissect, by Cole Kushna. Cole started Dissect in his house as a passion project, providing in-depth, comprehensive analysis for his favourite songs and albums. Each season was dedicated to an album and each episode was dedicated to a song on the album. His first two albums (Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) blew me away. Despite knowing the music and the artists so well, I learned so many new things each episode. I was mesmerized.
Now on Season 8, Cole is tackling the ambitious, fan-requested album, Yeezus, by Kanye West. The first episode of this new season was just released. If you enjoy critical analysis of art, love music, or both, be sure to check out Dissect if you haven't already. New episodes on Spotify first, and everywhere else months from now.