To see ourselves as others see us

Feedback is either a blessing or a curse depending on whether you want it or, the intention of the person giving it to you. Feedback can be positive or negative, useful or critical. However, even critical feedback is useful when it is well intended and given from the point of care or love.

Since Ed and I started and developed the self-help podcast the feedback has been constant, for which we both thank you, please keep it coming. We take all feedback seriously and attempt, wherever possible, to adapt and change and take your concerns on board.

Overall the feedback has been extremely positive and it would seem from the download figures, as well as the email feedback, that we are getting it about right, though two themes have cropped up, that I think we will need to address in this weeks podcast. Ed’s apparent flippancy and my apparent arrogance!

Anyway, what is feedback? Should we do it and is it useful?

The unseen function of feedback

Well, actually we are all doing it all the time both seeking it and giving it. That’s is, we each present things and ourselves consciously or unconsciously, that we expect other people to respond to. When we dress to go out we are presenting ourselves to the world. Some of us will be happy to dress in scruffs while others may dress to impress. If the latter is the case a compliment, ‘wow, you look good to day’ or, ‘that colour really suits you’, can make all the effort worthwhile.

Social stroking

Often positive feedback will make us feel good and increase our sense of self worth and that is a powerful function. This sort of social acceptance feedback greases and oils the wheels of society, be it in the office or in more informal settings allowing it all to run smoothly. Sometimes such feedback has a frisson of flirtatiousness that can make us feel good about ourselves. Though the line between a frisson and perceived inappropriateness may be in the eye of the beholder, it depends on your PC threshold.

Deliberate feedback

Sometimes feedback can be used as a communication tool especially by management, certainly if they are awake to the emotional needs of the workforce. Simply thanking your team at the end of the day, or the end of the project, can raise esteem and morale and increase productivity, reduce absence and staff turnover, we all need to feel that we have a value. The same is true in the home or in relationships.

Giving or receiving positive feedback is essential to our wellbeing. When did you last thank your partner, kids or parents for doing the simple tasks that can be assumed as ‘it’s just your job’ (Alain de Botton has written an article on this topic alone). Being thankful for food, washing, ironing or, cutting the grass makes it all that much more worthwhile and makes us feel happier about doing it again.

Negative feedback

I need to distinguish between feedback that may be critical and positive and straight negative feedback. Once there was an experiment where two classes of children from different schools, though matched for age, gender and ability were treated in two opposite ways. In one class the feedback was always positive whatever the children did in the other it was reversed so that all the feedback the children ever got was negative. At the end of the experiment the class that had been praised had increased in marks and results with increased enthusiasm and motivation. The class that had been continually criticised had got progressively worse and demotivated.

There are a lot of lessons in this for management, for parents and partners. It runs with the idea that ‘what you feed grows and what you starve dies’. When we accentuate the positive with good feedback that is what we get in return.


The same is true within each of us. We all have an inner voice, the bit that can be parental, that we can use to be self-critical or self-supportive. It can be hard to feel good if you are continually beating yourself up. We all make mistakes; if we learn and grow from them they become challenges and not problems. In that sense, everything that you experience will give you feedback and teach you. To the ‘awake’ mind everything and everybody is a Guru.

Giving critical feedback

We all have to do it at some point and when it is given with love and care it can be the most powerful gift that you can ever give to anyone. Before you do, there is something that you should ask yourself, how much of what you are experiencing or feeling is your stiff and how much belongs to the person who you are feeding back to?

My teacher explained to me, when I was angry with a fellow monk, that it might just be my problem and not his. The way he described it was that it was as though we were connected by a piece of elastic that was taught and full of tension. The more that energy belonged to me the greater would be my sense of arousal. It is the difference between being able to be objective about an issue when we are being subjectively angry or aroused by something. The difference being when we are calm and objective about something we are likely to be more accurate and appropriate in our feedback. Equally the more aroused we become the more we are likely to be clouded by our own unresolved emotional issues and be less objective in our experience. That does not mean that our feedback is not valid just that we also need to look at our self.


When we give feedback subjectively, as above, we are often projecting an experience from one person onto another person. Perhaps someone talks with the same accent, looks similar or, does similar things to someone from our past that we have net yet got over, we are likely to project this unresolved emotion onto them. When this happens they get the full force of our emotions they may, in reality, have nothing to do with them at all.

Receiving negative feedback

The same is true when we are told something that makes us angry. Perhaps someone tells us that we are mean, or negative or whatever, and we feel our self beginning to react, well they have probably just stepped on our emotional corns, they have hit on something within us that is real and unresolved that perhaps we are denying. When this happens a reaction can feel like a sudden intake of breath, heart rate goes up, and the reaction begins. When this happens the ideal is not to react but to stop and consider what is being said, think, process and analyse and, perhaps get feedback from other people.

The balance or probabilities

My experience of me is biased. I see myself from my own point of view. Your view of me may be more accurate than my own view of me.

On our Self Discovery Course there is a feedback session every ten weeks. This involves every person on the course giving every other member of the course a piece of paper that starts with “[name]…the way I experience you is…” plus one for my own experience of myself. The first sheets are usually superficial and get deeper over the year of the course.

What happens if the experience of the other twenty people on the program agree with each other, yet are very different to my own experience of myself? The chances are that they are right and I am wrong, or they are more objective and my subjective view is blurred.

I am about five foot six and small build. I use the example on the course that if I see myself as six fort six bronzed and muscular does that equate to other people’s experience of me? Well, the answer is no. In the balance of probabilities people see me as small build, they are probably right and I am wrong.

So for me all feedback is good, it is a useful tool and can be life changing and enlightening. However, you need to remain aware of your own subjectivity and the subjectivity of the person giving you the feedback.

If you are game for a laugh get twenty pieces of paper write your name followed by ‘the way I experience you is…. and give them to people who know you fairly well. You should also write one for yourself. You may learn a lot about yourself.

Take care,
Sean x

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