Monday, February 13, 2017

Dr. Faulkner: Feedback

It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but do you remember a time when a public address system produced that ear splitting, high pitched screech?  That is a case of feedback. 

As a student of ecology and biology, we often explore feedback systems in living organisms.  Feedback systems are associated with maintaining a state of health, balance, and proper function.  This state is called homeostasis and the systems are homeostatic systems.  

In living systems, negative feedback systems are not negative because they are bad but are labeled as negative because they say, “No.” to a change.  For example when the air temperature is cold enough to lower your body temperature, a negative feedback occurs that causes you to shiver to say, “No.” to the change by generating heat.  Or inversely, when the temperature increases your body says, “No.” by producing sweat to reduce the body temperature.  A positive feedback says, “Yes.” to a change and increases the rate or magnitude of the change.  An often cited positive feedback system occurs in childbirth where the process results in increasingly stronger and longer contractions to deliver the infant.

More commonly, when we have conversations about feedback we are considering what happens when one receives criticism, praise, or assessment from others.  And we often incorporate similar language (positive, negative, constructive) to describe the feedback.  In this realm positive means good and negative means bad.  Constructive feedback is usually negative delivered in a good way. 
In education we talk about formative assessments which are designed to give students feedback on their progress.  We have a variety of mechanisms to provide each other with feedback.  Student evaluations, peer evaluations, evaluations of the administration, promotion and tenure committee evaluations are all designed to provide feedback. 

In a recent interview in Inc. Magazine, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was asked the number one thing she looked for in someone that can grow with a company.  She replied, “Someone who takes feedback well.  Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly.”

The article goes on to explain that anyone can accept positive feedback and praise.  It is more difficult to accept and grow from negative feedback.  “Simply put, it never feels good to hear we’re wrong.”  Because it doesn’t feel good we often react to negative feedback in an emotional way and miss an opportunity to learn and benefit.  The situation is exacerbated when negative feedback is delivered in an emotional way.

The author of the article advises, “But if you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, don’t waste time rating how ideally it was delivered.  Instead ask yourself the following:

·         How can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?
·         Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?”

The takeaways for me are that we should be willing to deliver constructive feedback to our colleagues even when it is negative.  It should be delivered with the goal of helping each other be the best possible.   Secondly, we should not fear feedback opportunities but should rather seek them out with the goal of being the best possible person and best possible member of the Vol State community.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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