On Feedback

Most of what makes us who we are is based on some sort of feedback obtained earlier in our life. By my best estimation, there are two types of feedback:

  1. Explicit feedback, which comes in a little box labeled "this is feedback", and is hard to miss.
  2. Implicit feedback, which is unlabeled, and but for your attention to it, goes unnoticed.

By my age (mid-20s) most of my life has been guided by explicit feedback. As a baby, I was rewarded for doing things like crawling and disciplined when I tried to lick power outlets; as a young child I was rewarded for doing what I was told to do, and disciplined when I didn't. As a student, I was rewarded with good grades when I did what I was told ("Learn this material in such a fashion that you can regurgitate it on a test with unique but similarly structured questions.") or when I synthesized old ideas in old ways ("Make an assertion, defend it using intelligible thought and a passing understanding of the English language. No less than twelve pages.")

Jobs come laden with explicit feedback. Being given a job usually comes with explicit feedback: "we are happy to bring you on board because of X, Y, and Z, and we think you're a good fit for the role." Ditto with raises, promotions, and "employee of the month" awards. More explicit feedback is available in the form of reprimands, and of course, being fired.

Relationships have explicit feedback. Someone verbally agreeing to be your friend or (in the case of my wife) agreeing to marry me is providing explicit. When they say "I hate it when [x]" or "I love [Y]", this is explicit feedback. They are verbalizing their feelings.

The interesting thing about all this, though, is this: implicit feedback can lead to so much growth. So much more growth than explicit feedback. If you are sensitive to others around you and have a sincere desire to learn, you can figure out how to kick butt at work, or in a relationship, or a lot of other things. Implicit feedback allows you to infer what is going on under the surface.

There are a lot of areas this applies to. Relationships, jobs, friendships, self-monitoring... I've hardly thought of them all.

If you apply this method to all areas of your life, I think the results could be quite interesting. This is an idea that has been rolling around in my head for a few days, and I want to keep fleshing out. There are some specific situations that this applies to me, and I'll talk more about that soon.

Your feedback is welcome! (pah. of course it is.): In what areas do you wish you had more feedback in? In those areas, could you possibly be more attuned to implicit feedback?