Stupid Feedback: When Stupid Smarts and What to Do About It

We’ve all been on the receiving end of stupid feedback from time to time. It’s mean. It hurts. And it isn’t useful or is it?

Feedback is stupid when it’s alarming but not specific when we leave the conversation not understanding what to learn, or have any inkling about what to change. It’s easy to become frustrated and defensive.

A stupid example

I just spoke with an old friend. He was visibly distraught, “I was just told I am not a good leader,”

“Oh, why?”

No tangible examples

“What? That’s stupid feedback,” I replied.

And then, my brain went into one of those spins where I tried to concurrently entertain two competing thoughts leaving me with this divergent response:

1. “You can’t take that seriously”

2. “You must take that seriously”

What’s stupid

I have seen this guy lead up close. He’s got a lot of good going on. This kind of feedback destroys confidence. Even if there are issues, broad statements like this from someone in a position of power are not productive.

I then asked him to tell me why he knows he is a good leader he had a nice list.

Why it’s still serious

And then the tougher conversation.

What was driving this impression and subsequent feedback?

Who else was hearing this view?

Is there real feedback here to be understood and acted upon?

Looking beyond stupid

I began to think of some of the really vague and frustrating feedback I’ve received over the years. Usually, once I got past the emotional reaction, there was some nugget worth learning.

The lesson was not always obvious, but there was value in the digging.

Some approaches that can help

  • Examine the bigger context as objectively as possible
  • Calm down, and then go back and ask for clarification, examples, and help
  • Seek feedback from others, are there patterns to be understood?
  • Consider a 360 Feedback assessment
  • Look for a coach or mentor to support
  • And then again, after open-minded consideration, it’s possible that the feedback is not being given from a helpful place. That’s a discovery too

Even when delivered clumsily or from a biased viewpoint, feedback may offer some value. If we can look beyond the delivery, we may be surprised by what we can learn.