The Feedback Paradox: Brutal Honesty, Radical Transparency, Radical Candor and Netflix

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The Feedback Paradox: Brutal Honesty, Radical Transparency, Radical Candor and Netflix

Feedback is Necessary. It’s Also Hard.

Joe Dunn

Nov 3, 2018

The Fundamental Importance of Shared Truths

Telling each other what we think is a deeply necessary part of being human. We depend on shared knowledge to live and work together. We are successful as a species because we form groups, share concepts with each other, align on them and act on our understanding. Few of us know how to build a car, or grow our own food, or create a piece of music, let alone all those things. We depend on the shared knowledge and experience of groups of people (some of them very large) cooperating together, to create the world we live in.

To a very large extent, the success of a group depends on how much its members share the same view of what they are doing and why. To do that, we have to share our truth. We have to give each other feedback. We actively depend on others to show us what we cannot see ourselves, to hammer out our shared concepts and make them work.

Michael Lopp, VP Engineering at Slack, puts it well:

“The humans around, watching you act, have both the context and the experience to tell you important observations about both your successes and failures”

Feedback makes us what we are — pieces of incredibly complex networks of skill, experience, and intelligence:

“Thanks to feedback we can become more than simple programs with simple reflexes, and develop more complex responses to the environment,” he writes. “Feedback allows animals like us to follow a purpose.” (University of Sheffield cognitive scientist Tom Stafford — reference).

The Feedback Paradox

The flip side of having evolved to be successful in groups is that we feel the drive to belong at a very deep, very primitive level. Being a member of a group means survival, literally a matter of life and death. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution tell us that being rejected means we lose everything: protection, shelter, the warmth of human connection.

We feel potential rejection as a “social threat”, and we react, physically, in much the same way as we would to a physical threat. Our heart rates go up, our amygdala takes over, we get stressed, ready to fight or flee.

Criticism, at a very deep level, feels like a threat, regardless of how much we know, rationally, that we need it. And, of course, to the person delivering the criticism, it feels like they are delivering a message that might actually endanger another human by pushing them out of the group (“but they might quit!” is the single most common objection I hear in coaching my clients to be more direct).

No wonder it’s hard.

So we have a paradox: exchanging feedback, sharing our truth, is absolutely necessary for groups of people living and working together to be successful. But exchanging feedback can feel, at some deep level, like life or death.

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