… Giving Feedback

Everywhere I go. 

Whether I’m buying a pizza, paying my council tax, receiving a parcel or making a phone call. 


Just one minute to answer some questions on my experience. 

Today alone I’ve been asked to do a sixty second survey for NHS pensions (believe me I could call them “twats” a lot of times in sixty seconds, but only half as many as they deserve).  I’ve done feedback on my experiences of a WhatsApp call and rate several apps through the medium of stars, red/amber/green traffic lights and smiley or frowny faces.  

So listen.  If my opinion is so important to you, think on this.  I have worked through all your feedback requests and I have found myself “b) mostly dissatisfied”  

But look.  Here’s the thing.  Pretty much everything is…  well…  fine.  Three stars.  Unremarkable.  Most cars are fine, most restaurants are fine, most books, albums and films are fine.  Most things fall somewhere near the middle of a bell curve (for those of us with GCSE maths) and are… fine.   

But what makes or breaks feedback scores is three factors. 

How easy it is to complete, the type of people who fill these things in, and what they compare stuff to. 

If there’s a card on the table asking for your opinion on your meal and something to write with (confession: the sort of restaurants I go to these days generally provide crayons so that’s OK) then it’s dead easy.  This’ll attract the middle ground and get lots of middle ground 3 star opinions.  If I have to download an app or go online I’ll need a pretty good reason to justify providing feedback (therefore more 1s and more 5’s).  If I bother finding an address and sending a letter then I expect heads to roll. 

Then there are the people. 

And what people! 

I mean they shave these apes, give them the vote, and then expect me to respond to their opinions! 

The people who fill out feedback forms fall into two categories.   

Those who give really bad ratings for things have either (a) genuinely received very poor service, which is fair, or (b) just love a good moan.  If you chunter about the weather, complain about your health to anyone who listens, or have made a long and entertaining anecdote about your nightmare restaurant experience, then you fall into category b. 

Shut up.

The people who give excellent ratings universally have three things in common:  a cheerful disposition, a willingness to see the best in people and a little too much time on their hands. 

So remember when your restaurant, bank, performance (or indeed GP surgery) scores 1 star remember that’s 1 star from the people who hunted down and filled in the survey and 3 stars from the hundreds of people who couldn’t have been bothered.  So don’t get upset.  Likewise don’t get too carried away by a five-star review because most people thought it was a three, and those five stars were from your mum. 

Then there’s the issue of what you compare it to.   

I’ve eaten in a couple of really fancy restaurants on anniversaries and birthdays.  Five stars.  But I’ve also had some magnificent, scorching hot, salt and vinegary fish and chips on the beach.  Also a five.  I’ve even had some pretty knockout toast. 

So for the Michelin-starred hundred quid a head restaurant I got what I expected.  But the cheap white sliced NHS toast with actual butter brought to me and Mrs Brown by a midwife at 2 am after our son had been born remains one of the ultimate eating experiences ever. 

Then there is such a thing as going too far, to the point where constructive feedback becomes navel gazing.  Like at a Jimi Hendrix concert there’s a point where too much feedback becomes deafening white noise.  Literally today I received an email from NHS England giving me feedback on the quality of feedback I have given trainees.  Excellent, by the way.  My feedback, that is.  Not the trainees.  The trainees were rubbish but more on that another time. 

But it gets worse. 

One of the most respected and senior GPs in the North West of England, we’ll call him Ron  (I’ve changed his name for anonymity.  His name isn’t Ron.  It’s Roy).   

Anyway Ron designed a tool which trainees could use to reflect on the quality of the feedback they were getting from their supervisors.  For a postgraduate essay I was writing, I asked my trainee to use this tool and critiqued their performance.  Ron (Roy) then passed comments on my essay.  I thanked him for his comments and justified my findings:  he replied with an email in turn reflecting on what I’d found.   

I wanted to reply just so I was giving him feedback on his feedback of my feedback of the feedback on his feedback of my feedback based on the feedback on my feedback using the feedback tool.   

But that would have been taking the piss. 

It might be different with really top-end performers where fine margins make a big difference.  Tony Minichiello, who was the coach of Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis, used to advise only giving one or two recommendations in a feedback session so messages don’t get lost.  That said if you’re coaching an Olympic and World gold medalist, chances are your feedback sessions might come across as nit-picking. 

“Jess.  When you’re hurdling could you try…” 

“Best in the world, Tony.” 

“Maybe with the high jump you could…” 

“Tony!  Best in the world!” 

“Had you thought about…” 

“Tony!  Tony!  Listen!  Best…In…The…WORLD!” 

“Perhaps you could… actually, screw it Jess.  It’s probably fine as it is.” 

“Best in the world, Tony!”  

So what’s the moral of the story? 

Feedback comes in a million ways and needs a bit of interpretation.  It’s useful in its place but needs to be delivered right or it’s not feedback it’s just white noise and moaning. 

And if you agree with me that we should feel less pressured into providing feedback please like and share this post and add comments (up to and including five smiley faces). 

One thought on “… Giving Feedback

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