Do You Want Feedback or Validation?

Two frustrating feedback requests in a single week have prompted me to ponder how much advice people really want when they request it. When are requests sincere, and when are they simply a guise for obtaining recognition and validation?

Last week began with my receiving feedback on my feedback. Because we have a university policy that isn’t really working as it was intended, several of us agreed a revamp was in order. I was enormously grateful that another colleague offered to take the lead in writing a first draft. When I received the proposed revisions, I agreed that significant improvements had been made, but it was by no means finished. So I did what I always do—I provided detailed suggestions about how to make it better.

My ideas were not appreciated. I received a chilly and prickly message copied to multiple people explaining why the original ideas were smart and my suggestions were ridiculous. I had to take a few deep breaths and not allow my fingers to approach my keyboard to reply:

“You appear to take great delight in making people feel stupid. You might want to work on that. BTW, please do not waste my time in the future by asking for feedback you do not actually want.”

A day later I was asked by a community acquaintance to provide feedback on a survey she was going to be distributing to business leaders. Once again, I took the request seriously, suggested a few edits and proposed two additional questions that would make for a richer data set. The response? “Thanks, but we’re really eager to get this out by tomorrow, so I think we’ll leave it as is.” Another hour of my life lost for no good reason.

It occurs to me that we need to be clearer about our intentions when we ask for feedback. To make it easy, we could use a numbering system:

Category One: “I seriously need your advice on this. Rip it up if you have to; I really want this to be good.”

Category Two: “Does this make sense? Will others understand it?”

Category Three: “Please review for accuracy and typos.”

Category Four: “This is a cover-my-back request. Please read this so I can claim I asked for your input.”

Category Five: “Please marvel at my brilliance and use this request as an opportunity to praise me. Do not, under any circumstances, suggest improvements because this is perfect as it is.”

Have I got the categories right? I seriously need your advice on this. Rip it up if you have to; I really want this to be good.

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