RikiA lot of great stuff has been written about the feedback process, especially how to deliver it: Talk to the person first. Send a draft of the review in e-mail form. Balance the positive and negative feedback.

Here’s the problem: these points are all centered on sparing the feelings of the person receiving the feedback. We spend no time discussing the feelings of the person giving the feedback.

Have you ever given feedback to someone only to have them react defensively? Maybe you felt like the conversation was a waste of time, so you chose not to follow up with a written Judge Center review. Or maybe you entered the review but then got an email response disputing each point in your feedback.

Welcome to feedbacklash, the latest in the Feedback Loop’s string of made up words. Feedbacklash may be a made-up word, but it is a very real problem: backlash stifles people’s desire to give feedback.

If you’ve gotten feedbacklash, think about how it made you feel. More than likely you felt bad, like you had done something wrong; or frustrated that your perspective wasn’t valued; or maybe that you had hurt or offended your judge colleague. Since you’re human, it’s only natural that you’d go out of your way to avoid the circumstances that led to that feeling because you don’t want to feel that way again.

Let me tell you an interesting anecdote about myself. Whenever someone offers me some gum, I take it. Every time. Okay, maybe not when I’m actively eating something. I’m now imagining that people will put this statement to the test. My mouth is prepared for your gifts of gum.

This a habit I’ve built up over the years for a simple reason: I assume that people are offering me gum because my breath smells bad and gum is their way of getting around telling me this directly. In the past, I’ve asked if my breath smelled bad and gotten everything from “No, just offering gum” to “Yeah…please take the gum and chew before you say anything else.”

Now imagine if when offered gum, I instead said, “Oh? Are you offering me gum because you think my breath smells bad? I’ll have you know that I brushed my teeth this morning, so I find it highly unlikely that my breath smells bad. In fact, it may be your olfactory senses that are off. Who elected you to be the grand arbiter of breath smells?” My obvious exaggeration illustrates the extreme defensive posturing that people can take when confronted with an attempt at constructive criticism.

When I’m offered gum, I cut out any pretense of defensiveness. I just say “thank you” and take the gum. I also try to apply this mentality to the way I receive feedback from other judges. In fact, my approach is pretty simple. I say Thanks for the Feedback and take it.

Ok, my response is usually a bit more nuanced than that since feedback can be complex. I may need to think about the feedback a while to understand it better, but for the most part I take it and smile. What if they’re wrong? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that this person took some time to help me, and it’s important to nurture that sentiment no matter how much I disagree with the specifics of the feedback. You’re always free to ignore feedback that you disagree with.

Responding with feedbacklash, on the other hand, diminishes someone’s efforts to help you now and reduces their willingness to help you or others in the future. Here’s my advice:

Next time you receive feedback, take it and chew on it a while.

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