I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about feedback. It’s such a corporate kind of word isn’t it? I can just see a bunch of suits sitting round a table saying things like “Let’s push the envelope on the next project – feedback wasn’t great on the last one” or something. But aside from the slightly wanky connotations, I think the idea of feedback is an important one. After all, it’s something we all look for in every element of our lives every single day – often without realising it.
When I was younger, I used to think that being good at giving feedback meant being good at saying “yes”. I’m the kind of person who would much rather offer up a positive affirmation and lie, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. The flip side of this is that I’ve sometimes made myself a doormat – I’m the one who never complains in restaurants even if the meal is inedible. In my early days as a freelancer I was often pushed around by demanding clients simply because I didn’t want to risk any possible confrontation by standing up for myself. I’d rather get underpaid for a big project than put my hand up and ask for more money. “Can you do X, Y and Z extra, for no more money?” “Yes, sure. No problem”. That was me. A yes person.
Recently though, I’ve got better at saying no. Having a second baby has forced me to be even more vigilant of my time, which has meant saying no to things I would previously have said yes to – even if I didn’t really want to.
More than that though, I’ve become better at being honest when people ask me for my opinion about something rather than immediately offering a straight up “Yes, it’s great!”. I’ve discovered that it is possible to be constructive with feedback, to make what could be a negative comment far more tactful. I think it helps that I’m fully aware that my one opinion is just a tiny grain of sand in a sea of other opinions – there may be other people who love something that I dislike.
Which brings me onto the dangers of surrounding yourself with “yes people” in general. I guess as a mum I’m already very familiar with being around “no people” – my eldest pulls no punches when she gives feedback (“This food is DISGUSTING Mummy”). But while I might feel exasperated when she gives a straight up “No” to a question, it does make the positive feedback she offers mean so much more. At five years old she simply doesn’t know how to be insincere, so when she says she “loves that dress Mummy” I know she really means it.
Aside from my girls, I consider myself pretty lucky to be surrounded by a bunch of people in my life who aren’t “yes people”. Although I know they’ll support me no matter what, and I can talk to them about anything, I also know they won’t always agree with me. And this is a good thing.
I’ll often ask my husband for his opinion about something I’ve written for work, for example, because I know he’ll be totally (sometimes brutally!) honest. The same goes for my family. We live by the motto of never taking yourself too seriously, which means if I started behaving like a self-important idiot they’d be the first to give me a reality check. Again, this is a good thing.
I love going shopping with my best friend, because when I ask for her opinion about a potential new outfit she gives a real answer rather than just reverting to “Oh it looks GORGEOUS”. The flip side of that is that when she pays me a compliment and tells me I look great I know she means it. A sincere compliment is worth more than a thousand vacuous, fake ones.
I genuinely think that feedback of the negative variety can be just as useful – sometimes more so – than the positive sort. We would never learn how to make something better if everything was all “Oh, that’s just amazing!” straight away. It’s one of the reasons I try really hard to find constructive negative things to say when I review something, for example. But it’s also one of the reasons I welcome comments with another point of view if I write a blog post or article about something a bit opinionated. If everyone just said “Oh yeah – I agree with you totally” then I’d never see the other side of the argument.
Surrounding yourself with “yes people” is a risky business, I think. From what I can see, you’ll go through life with a blinkered perception of things. You might end up like one of these celebs that always get slated for having a warped perception of reality or their own importance in the grand scheme of things. I guess it’s like the difference between George Clooney (often thought to be pretty cool – comes across well in interviews, doesn’t take himself too seriously) versus the likes of Russel Crowe or Tom Cruise.
Of course there’s a big difference between being positive, giving something a go and being a good friend, and being one of those mood hoover types, offering up negative comment after negative comment. That’s definitely not what I mean by “yes” and “no” people in this context – that’s a whole other post.
What do you think? I’d love your “feedback” on this….!