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.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Karin ~ A great post! like most people, I have been on the receiving end of stupid feedback and have probably delivered some of it to others at one time or another. (One ‘good’ turn deserves another I suppose). To your point though, feedback of any kind, stupid or intelligent gives us the opportunity to self-reflect.
    Once upon a time one of my bosses was giving me a ‘performance review’. It went something like this:
    “I see your performance right now as average. What I want from you is above average to outstanding.”
    When I asked for more detail and some specifics around what ‘above average’ or ‘outstanding’ looked like, he couldn’t tell me. But that’s what he wanted…end of story.
    Frankly it made me mad so I spent all weekend assessing what it was I had actually accomplished over the previous year. I asked my colleagues and internal clients how they saw me and what more I could be doing. And I made note of it all.
    Had I not been on the end of the initial ‘stupid’ feedback, I might not have been inspired, or perhaps in this case, goaded into really thinking about what I was there to accomplish.
    Of course, it’s not the recommended way of motivating people, but the point is, even stupid feedback can, as you point out, be useful.
    My story ended very positively, as, over time I earned the respect of this boss and I learned a great deal in the process.
    Thanks for the memories 🙂

  2. Gwyn,

    Thank you so much for joining the conversation with this important story. Very inspiring on what is possible when we take feedback seriously and into our own hands to learn more.

    This has me thinking about the feedback I give to others, both positive and constructive…. and working to ensure i have thought it through. Yikes.


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