The Thorny Thicket of Feedback and Advice

By August 7, 2016 Clinician, ePatient, Leader

When I was diagnosed with MS, people came out of the woodwork with advice and feedback. I was so not receptive. When I talked with my neurologist about the advice, he said, everything works for someone. The challenge is figuring out if it works for you. I have an executive coach who gives me feedback periodically. This I listen to and follow to the best of my ability. My wife gives me feedback. After 41 years of marriage I know she’s right 95% of the time. I follow it 80% of the time. A family member asks me for advice and I’m reluctant to give it. Who am I to advise? What if it’s bad advice? Giving and taking advice or feedback seems so complex, fraught, welcome, and unwelcome.

What’s the difference between advice and feedback? According to the dictionary,

Advice is guidance or recommendations concerning future action, typically by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.

Feedback is information about reactions to a product, person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis of improvement.

They blend together for me.

Speaking with two teachers, math and art, we came up with empathy, modeling, and faith as the keys to giving great feedback and advice. Empathy. Listening to understand the person’s story, feelings, and perceptions. Modeling. Walk the talk. Faith. Confidence that the person is already great and can act on the feedback or advice you’re giving if it’s right for them.

So what about key factors for receiving feedback and advise? How about trust, readiness, and self-confidence? Trust. The adviser, feedbacker(?) is knowledgeable and has no other agenda than your growth or recovery. Readiness. I’m open. I want feedback. Self-confidence. I can do as suggested.

Grading can be poison to feedback. People who think that their future success (ability to get a desired job or position) can be unreceptive to that feedback.

In my coaching and mentoring experience, I’m taken aback by the impact that my faith (confidence) in my colleague’s or friend’s capabilities has on them. It’s huge.

Trust and modeling usually takes time. Trust comes from a relationship or reputation. We model behavior while traveling in a clinical, health, or leadership  journey together or, again, from reputation. Yet advice and feedback often comes in very short time spans such as 15 minute doctor’s visit or one hour coaching sessions. I’ve known my primary care doctor for years. We have a relationship. I trust her completely. But when I see a specialist once, I’m skeptical. It helps that my PCP referred her-reputation. On the other hand, in the moment, empathy and faith are present or not present. It’s not a matter of time. That’s powerful.

Kind of amazing that clinicians and coaches expect their advice and feedback to be followed immediately. It might be. But might not.

One Comment

  • Sue says:

    Right on the mark, Danny. Thank you! In my current day-to-day I find myself on both sides (depending on the situation)–as someone in need of feed/back & advice, and as one being asked for or wanting give it.

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