Traditional Feedback is Explicit
Feedback is the means by which any system makes changes. From the gene pool to the swimming pool, feedback works to eliminate the insufficient and improve the sufficient. (See what I did with the "pool" thing?)
Your car gives you feedback if the oil is running low - this allows you to take corrective action before ruining your action. Your computer gives you feedback if its running hot - this allows you to save your work before your computer automatically shuts down, to cool off. Just about any system that can break has feedback mechanisms built in, so the user can evaluate the individual components of that system before the effect of poor performance ruins the whole thing.
Coaches and teachers give feedback, too. If your not throwing the ball right, or moving in exactly the right way, a good coach will give you feedback so you can improve. If your paper is not shaping up as it should, your teacher will give you feedback.
Here's the problem - in each of these examples, there is a built-in system for feedback. If your car says the oil is low, or your gas is running out, you don't get angry and stomp off. If your coach tells you how to do a specific move better, you (hopefully) don't take it as a personal dig.
When It Is Not Explicit
In most areas of life, however, feedback is not built it. It just happens, if you happen to be looking for it or not. Users complaining about a problem (real or perceived) constitute feedback, even though they didn't fill out a survey. If everyone you are talking to ends up leaving the conversation, they are giving you feedback, even though they'll never tell you why they're leaving.
These subtle forms of feedback are extremely valuable, and if you are attentive, you can learn a lot about how people relate to you, your product, and your ideas. I am not advocating reshaping yourself based on the subtle indicators of others, but you would be wise to be aware of the messages that are being sent. You can then pick and choose which to be attentive to.
Here are three areas where I'm trying to wrap my head around explicit vs. implicit feedback:
- At my job, I talk with the users of our product regularly. They usually get in touch with us only when they are confused or their expectations have not been met. I could pass this off as user "confusion" or "user being disconnected from reality", or I can think "their reaction is because something is not being communicated as it should be. Let me figure out what that is."
- I am intentional about trying to meet with people that I respect, so I can learn from them. Sometimes these attempts do not pan out - I could either dismiss the unsuccessful attempts as "he's being a jerk" or "he must be really really busy", or, I can think "Someone could figure out how to get in touch with this guy - what does that person know that I do not? How can I learn that too?'
- Here is a reversal of implicit vs. explicit feedback: My wife is a source of tremendous joy to me. Her favorite things are different than my favorite things, however. She feels very loved if, as we're driving somewhere far away, I pull over and make a spontaneous date out of a meal, rather than eating in the car. Whenever we've done this, she tells me in very plain words "This makes me feel loved. Thank you." No matter how well I know this, I still regularly try to trick myself into thinking she doesn't care that much, so we'll just grab food while driving. In this last instance, I try to make explicit feedback ("This makes me feel loved") into implicit feedback ("That was fun") and then dismiss it. Not something I'm proud of, but its what I do, in order to get my way.
This is my thoughts on feedback. There is a lot of growth that can happen quickly if you pay attention to how things are received, and adjust accordingly.
Get at it.