Attacks vs. Feedback

Negative feedback is hard to deal with. Some remarks strike a tender spot, and we hear the criticism so loudly it drowns out more moderate—or even positive—responses. Other remarks contradict our reality, so we build bulwarks, dismissing comments as vindictive, erroneous, or an outlier.

So no matter how unpleasant the message, it's important to remember that all feedback is just information. What matters is how we evaluate it and what we do next.

1. Filter out the tone.

Most of us wouldn't scream at a salesperson face to face, but it happens in writing, whether through clumsiness or the safety of anonymity. Just because someone is shouting at you about how YOUR SHODDY PRODUCT RUINED TIMMY'S CHRISTMAS MORNING! doesn't mean the complaint isn't valid.

2. Can you verify the underlying facts?

The customer isn't always right, but even when they're wrong there may still be a kernel of truth—so dig before dismissing. If nothing else, you may discover a place where you could more clearly set expectations.

3. Is there consensus or contradiction?

I received chapter markups from one reader who wanted more detail, while another felt I was too wordy. Contradiction doesn't make the opinions invalid—both may be fair depending on usage, department, or some other circumstance.

4. Do they suggest fixes?

If a customer or employee writes a paragraph about what's wrong, they're more likely to be a disappointed fan than a fussbudget. Even impractical suggestions may still be great brainstorming fodder.

5. Are there related themes?

Before you dismiss a comment, look for similar issues—that outlier may just be a different expression of a more common issue.

6. Quantify it!

Whether through coding verbatims or adding a rating question to the next edition, try to get a tally on your issues.

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I always hear your voice in my head ‘if it is taking you too long, there is a simpler way to do it!’

Pauline Perreault
Market Research Analyst
Alberta Motor Association