current events

The Psychology of Constructive Feedback and Exit Interviews: Nobody Really Cares

Speaking of not being impressed (ahem, Mckayla the gymnast), can I get an Amen if you like getting feedback? Wow, the room got really quiet there for a second. Undoubtedly, there are people who like giving feedback–managers, supervisors, and the various people who direct others surely love doling out the feedback; otherwise why taken those positions. Surely it ain’t for the love and roses one receives from those you try to guide and in some circumstances shield from adverse workplace events. The reason for the lack of love is because no one truly can take feedback. Some claim they learn from it, but deep down, I swear most harbor resentment. That resentment is oftentimes related to “se7en” factors: (1) they feel they are actually smarter or better than you (in some instances that may be true but obviously they weren’t smart enough to be your supervisor, so take that); (2) they are under the illusion that they are an under-appreciated, misunderstood genius because their mommy raised them to believe that; (3) they don’t have the constitution, self-esteem, or sense of identity to handle it; (4) feedback is seen as petty and so micro when they are clearly so much bigger than all this minutia; (5) their ego is so large they have lost their sense of hearing; (6) they equate length of time in the field or ever working with skillsets which that is clearly not a positive correlation; and (7) it just sucks to hear something negative.

There are those that claim they can take critical feedback as long as it’s mixed in with positive reinforcement. How Psych 101. It’s pretty much the equivalent of saying that you’ll accept minor criticism if you are also showered in praise. Maybe you just suck. Which reminds me of a former staff who claimed that what she did on company time was none of my business, that our conversation was so “Psychology 101” and then went running away from me as I tried to get her to sign her warning letter. She quit 10 minutes later and hugged me goodbye. One of the most bizarre workplace interactions I’ve encountered.

There are those who are actually smart, strive to learn and process your feedback. Somewhere. I’ve been led to believe they exist in the wild, but sightings are infrequent. They are the good employees that you eventually promote (although there are many bad employees that get promoted), but you can’t help but feel a bit like a conspiracy theorist imagining that the second you are out of the room there is some level of negative feeling or reaction.

In the workplace, there is such a thing called an exit interview. It’s the chance for an employee that’s leaving on their own accord to provide feedback to the organization. Basically, an exit interview is a chance to leave on a positive note, offer a few minor, correctable observations and leave with good will, or you can burn that bridge and go out in a blaze of fury. Either way, hardly ever does management really take into account or implement new strategies based on said interviews. See, the organization is run by people (for the most part) and their ability to handle that feedback is pretty limited. Also, they just don’t care. They are in power. You are leaving. Enough said.

I ask why did the media, and ostensibly the public, act shocked when neither Bush nor Obama could come up with a really good answer in terms of what they learned from their first terms in office. You think they took feedback and internalized it? Well, it would actually entail someone daring to give them feedback to begin with. Counsel, Yes. Feedback, nah-not gonna happen. Non-profit organizations also have a rocky relationship with feedback in that there is a sense of entitlement to getting away with certain types of work behaviors they are ostensibly working out of the goodness of their hearts and not getting paid much for. Its as if they are saying hey the less I get paid, the less I will tolerate feedback. Hmm, I almost get that point. There is only so much suckiness someone can tolerate, I suppose. But then again, without accepting feedback, you will not be able to rise above that sucky job. Furthermore, in non-profits the pay is actually not that bad (see previous blog post on salaries).

So, there are all these lists and books that talk about how to manage effectively. Inevitably, there is a chapter on how to provide feedback. These books in all seriousness will state that feedback increases team productivity and harmony. Productivity? Possibly, for a little while at least, at least until people no longer feel their job might be in jeopardy. Harmony? Not so much. That’s actually laughable. No book ever details how you provide feedback to a staff person who is literally running away from you, or throwing themselves on the floor in a tantrum. How about we use the Clockwork Orange method and strap them to chair with their eyes forced wide open? Don’t think you can get away with that? Then go get a couple of cocktails and rip the band-aid.

81 replies »

  1. I feel we don’t practice effective listening. I think it is important to practice listening while providing or giving feedback. If the other person is not in receptive mood, there is no point in providing feedback. Similarly, if we cannot listen, we are leaving a chance to learn something new about us or about our work style or anything else. I sometimes feel, even if other person is rambling 99% there will always be 1% truth in it. Now it depends on us to take that truth in our wings or leave it like that.With this,I am resting my thoughts here. 🙂


  2. I have a friend who is an excellent artist and tried to help with a non-profit. None of the leaders get paid, so they responded just as you wrote–no, we don’t do it that way. One point I made was that if you pay people to do something, there’s less committee, hand wringing, everybody has their opinion, and nothing gets done.


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