Processing Feedback

All of us, as we do our jobs, receive feedback. Some good, some bad, some that never comes in at all – and yet feedback only ever helps if we have a method to sort through it and turn it into something useful. One method Seth Godin talks about (see Akimbo podcast episode “Supple”) is the difference between vivid and accurate feedback.


Vivid feedback is the “squeaky wheel.” It’s the screaming fan or the angry customer. Vivid feedback is clear and impassioned, and if it’s from one out of ten customers, it may be hardest and yet most important to ignore because it may not be representative of the whole. Vivid feedback often triggers an emotional response within whoever receives it. 


Accurate feedback is like the tire pressure sensors on a car. They’re constantly at work behind the scenes, ready to set off an alarm if one registers a deviance from the norm. They’re accurate because we know the meaning of the measurements in advance. Accurate feedback is the fair and balanced version of a story that considers all of the information. It tells us when it’s OK to ignore the one out of ten because we have more important things to focus on for sake of the other nine. 


Whether the feedback is solicited or unsolicited, if we want to drive progress we need to know how to process it. One very positive or negative survey out of one hundred sent out should not make or break a person’s day, but it could if we don’t have the appropriate framing in place in advance. Likewise, an emotionally charged phone call needs to be considered from the vivid and accurate perspectives if we want it to be useful. Feedback always contains data, we have to turn it into information.


We’re getting feedback all of the time from everyone around us. The closer we pay attention and seek to understand the “why” behind each anecdotal experience, the better we can tie the data together into a better understanding of how we achieve whatever our goals are. Bucketing the details into vivid or accurate groups is a start. Intentional attention moves the needle.


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