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I woke up clutching at the hotel comforter, freezing. It was much too cold in the room, so cold that I was reluctant even to consider prancing barefoot to the far wall to turn up the thermostat. Why was it so cold?

In my haste to cool the room off the previous night, I had turned the thermostat all the way down, not trusting its built-in feedback mechanism. A thermostat works by warming or cooling the room a little bit then checking for feedback. It measures the new room temperature against the desired temperature and corrects the temperature based on that feedback. Temperature controls without feedback mechanisms, like the ones in most automobiles, are far less accurate and require constant tweaking by the user.

Likewise, I can be much more effective in the way I interact with the world if I learn how to use feedback. Useful feedback consists of accurate data in how I effect those around me. Most people like to give advice rather than feedback. Advice is less useful in most cases, because it goes through a level of interpretation and filtering through someone else’s worldview and agenda before it gets to me. The kind of feedback that is most useful is the raw perceptions, interpretations, and feelings directly experienced by a person.

“When you asked for my help in reviewing your book, I felt excited and honored, and a little bit nervous. I had the thought that I might not be up to the challenge, but I was definitely motivated to help.” That’s good feedback. Assuming it’s accurate, I know that the way I asked for help produced motivation and good feelings but a bit of self-doubt. This is a common way that people respond to me. I know that from many years of asking for feedback.

“Just a word of advice, Richard. You might not want to single me out in public as being someone who would be good at helping, because other people might feel slighted.” This is not very useful feedback, because it is not firsthand. While it is true that this person had that thought in response to my interaction with them, in general thoughts and fears about how other people might respond are inaccurate and tend to reflect self-limiting beliefs on the part of the giver of this advice. If I’m really concerned, though, I can check this out with others to see if the second-hand fear is accurate. Usually it is not.

Sometimes I do want advice. I only take advice from people with lives I like. Most people, if they take advice, take it from people they like or people like them. I take the position that taking advice will make my life more like the life of the advice-giver. So I take financial advice from people who are richer than me (not some self-appointed “financial advisor”), relationship advice from men who are happy and fulfilled in their relationships (not Dr. Laura), advice on public speaking from successful public speakers (not self-appointed “speaking coaches”), and so on. 

Finally, when giving feedback, it’s great to use the Communication Model. That separates out raw perceptions, interpretations, and feelings, making the feedback more accurate and easier to receive. Always use “I” and talk about yourself. Don’t attempt to philosophize and generalize that all human beings are the way you are. They aren’t. Thank God.

Richard Brodie
October 1999

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Last Edited: May 03, 2000
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