Monday, 20 June 2016

Feedback: Love It Or Hate It?

A while back I read Matthew Syed's book Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success. There was lots in it I found fascinating, but this quote from a head of HR in a prestigious financial institution struck me:

"When someone is given a new challenge, like giving a major presentation to clients, it is inevitable that they will be less than perfect first time around.  It takes time to build expertise, even for exceptional people.

But there are huge differences in how individuals respond.  Some love the challenge.  They elicit feedback, talk to colleagues, and seek out chances to be involved in future presentations.  Always - and I mean always - they improve.  But others are threatened by the initial 'failure'. In fact, they engage in astonishingly sophisticated avoidance strategies to ensure they are never put in that situation ever again.  They are sabotaging their progress because of their fear of messing up."

I've seen the same reaction with feedback to writing. Some love it, seek it out.  Others hate it, reject it.

I believe strongly that writing is something that should be enjoyed - it's an uncertain business if you're writing professionally, with no career guarantees - so no one should have to go through a process that they don't like or find upsetting, and especially if they're not aiming to write professionally.

The trouble is, that HR guy is right. In my many years of teaching, I can safely say that every piece of writing I've seen re-written after feedback is better.  And isn't that - regardless of whether we're doing it professionally or just for ourselves - what most of us want: for our writing to improve?

It can be hard, it can be painful, it can be threatening.  I've been upset for days (occasionally weeks) after hearing some feedback I didn't like.  And then I've rewritten. It's always better.

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success by Matthew Syed.

1 comment:

USQ Foodie said...

Hi, Sarah, two comments:

A great pianist from the past (Rubenstein, Serkin?) once said, "If I haven't practiced for a day when I perform, I notice it. If I haven't practiced for two days, other musicians notice it. If I haven't practiced for three days, everybody notices."

Re always using "said". While you make some good points, let me tell you about my experience writing cables in the Foreign Service. Many, many cables are reports of meetings, so the temptation to use "said" in almost every paragraph is very strong. But FS writing precepts argue, and I agree, that for the sake of variety, varying your "said verbs" is a good idea. As a matter of fact, people passed around a full page of "said verbs", which I believe I still have. I had it taped to my computer monitor and used it all the time. It really helped keep these cables from being incredibly dull! (Of course, an interesting subject, conversation and lively writing style helped also.)