Add your voice - the power of feedback
We Brits have a reputation for being unwilling to deal with feedback –
either giving or receiving. Allegedly we are reluctant to complain for
fear of fallout or offending. So often, our needs go unmet and we
wonder why we remain unhappy. And if someone offers us feedback,
we take it as criticism, get defensive, and miss on an opportunity to
But feedback is how we learn! And it confronts us every day.
The personal view
Such an example, as I discovered recently, is a speeding ticket.
I was photographed doing one mile over the limit in a small Scottish
town. (I had been concerned about reaching the next town on time
and confess I had put more focus on that than observing the speed
sign!)But the ticket, the feedback, motivated me to be more vigilant.
And it cost me.
Your body is constantly feeding back to you – often through pain. Signs and symptoms are telling you of a need to do something.
Toothache tells you it’s time for a dental appointment. Neck pain could mean something physical, you have strained your neck for example, or metaphysically, it could mean you need to face a pain-in-the-neck in your life! To ignore the signs could cost you, dearly. And not just financially.
But there are times when we need to initiate the feedback either by requesting it from someone or offering it to them.
You find your relationship is not as good as it once was then you maybe need to get some feedback either directly from the other person or sometimes we may take ourselves into counselling to help us look at aspects of our behaviour or thinking that is trigger some of the things we don’t like about the relationship.
Sometimes we just want to tell someone, for example the shop assistant at our local store, how helpful they are, how they brighten your day, how you appreciate their little bit of banter. It may seem small, but to them it could mean everything.
On matters health you could give positive feedback to a nurse or doctor who has done much to get you back to health.
But sometimes it is necessary to take risks and be bold and give feedback when your health care, or other service, has been less than acceptable.
I witnessed this during the months we supported my younger sister in what turned out to be her final year, living with lung cancer.
True, there were some shining examples of great attention and care and I took time to make appropriate words of appreciation.
But there were times when she was ignored, left sitting only in her underwear, waiting two hours to be taken to the toilet. She was accused of being awkward and not speaking “properly” when she had been made a zombie by medication that was affecting her strength, her memory, and her ability to communicate. I once found her being shouted at by a trainee nurse in the toilet – goaded and taunted. So there came a point when it was time for a deep breath and a recognition that radical action was needed and so I asked for a case conference with all relevant staff involved, and present our family observations and concerns.
The wider view
Realising that this was not just about isolated local circumstances in one hospital, but broader political decisions and how we use and abuse financing the NHS in Scotland, I decided there were wider political issues, including the medicine we do and the way we do medicine, that needed at least attention and so approached my local Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP,) the Scottish Government and my NHS area Board. This website is also a response to the concerns because making representations once is not enough. The blocks to progress are many.
The question is when things need radical change, do you take the dripping water approach “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Ovid – or is it time to blast the rock and create a new paradigm?
Find your own voice
So find your voice, make it heard, and influence the world in which you live;
do not just sit passively by and leave it to others.
Praise people, not just because it’s good for them to receive a complement,
but it reinforces your own positive neural pathways.
If you wish to complain – follow the procedures first. Do not be fobbed off as
you may often be.
If you need to give feedback for change – identify the key decision makers
and contact them.
Reflect both the good experiences you have had as well as the not so good.
Don’t just rant – be clear what you see as needing improved or changed. You
may want to tell a story, but the reader whose time is scarce may be better
influenced by short facts or bullet points.
If you need help to know specifically how to go about feeding back, look on company websites for their contact / complaint procedures, or begin by read this link from Money Saving Expert.
Are you a serial complainer? Or serial avoider?
At one moment last year, dealing both with my sister’s health issues and many of my own, it seemed, with things moving fast to end of life, there was cause for complaint every day to the point that I had to seriously ask myself if I was becoming a serial complainer, looking for only the negative. Another family member took the other route, of avoiding making her voice known.
On each occasion I decided to check was there really a valid cause for complaint or did I just need to off-load? Was I clear what I wanted “the other” to do? Was I addressing my comments to the right person in the first place? Re-reading the complaint was it sufficiently informative to allow the other to understand it let alone act on it?
Personal feedback and reflection
Checking in with myself, I had to offer myself my own feedback and be truly honest with myself. And it centred around the following:-
Did I need to change the way I thought – especially moving from focussing on problems to switching to solutions? How? For it is much easier said than done as our brains have a natural gravitational pull to the negative. Fact! Try picking a beautiful rose from the bush – you are likely first to get pricked by the thorns and instantly your mind goes on the pain, the bleeding, cursing at the rosebush when it was just being a rose bush!
So how could I see things differently? Just asking the question is a start. Could I talk it through with a listening friend to gain a different perspective?
I could practise mindfulness or meditation or mindfulness meditation, to access the more compassionate place within. I might still want to complain but it would be with a more understanding attitude.
I could put myself in the other’s shoes, even if I had never met them. What is it really like to work in a call centre, with interminable targets and limited time to communicate with a customer with perhaps limited effective systems to work with?
Green for go – sometimes it was appropriate to proceed to raise negative issues but if the conclusion was I needed to blow off steam, then there were more productive ways of doing that.
Admitting to myself I was not coping at that time. That had to be the starting point.
Crying – on days when things seemed helpless
Venting into a pillow or writing things down but not sending them
Visiting with a therapist to explore the feelings and their deeper origins
Discussing with my doctor – but s/he had limited time and medication was not the answer.
Do something physical – I had taken up swimming, even the gym for a while, there was a huge forest on the other side of my road where I could walk and be in nature. I took up Qi Gong.
With Qi Gong, much more simple than it may at first sound, I took a face-to-face
instruction and then developed with the aid of a very comprehensive on-line course.
Some other things I decided to do
Keep asking, would I rather complain or be happy, would I rather be happy or be right?
Express gratitude more often – complete a daily gratitude diary. The many effects of gratitude may seem surprising, but a direct look in research projects at the brain activity during moments of gratitude yields some insight. Subjects who show more gratitude overall have higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, a section of the brain responsible for the production of many of the body’s essential hormones, chemical substances that help control different cells and organs, controlling a huge array of essential bodily functions, such as eating, drinking and sleeping, temperature regulation, thirst, hunger, sleep, mood, and sex drive. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels, and constant stress as we have discovered is responsible for so many dis-eases. It starts to become clear how feeling and expressing gratitude can have wide-ranging benefits from increased exercise, and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains.
Don’t do as others do – sometimes when with friends it’s easy to get suck in to the pity parties, the gossip and the complaining. So I decided I wouldn’t – join in that is. I’d either draw it to the attention of others by asking what good gossiping was doing or sometimes I’d just stay quiet. Speak up, or shut up. But if your pattern is to always shut up then you are not bring around any change.
Be as Ghandi – ask what part of me I need to change? Mahatma Gandhi needs no big introduction. Many know about the man who led the Indian people to independence from British rule in 1947 and who said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
If I could change how I thought, then I would change my feelings and my behaviours. And ultimately the world around would change, one step at a time. It begins with new thoughts and attitudes.
I reminded myself of the serenity prayer, authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhrr:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
(Although known most widely in its abbreviated form above,
the entire prayer reads as follows...)
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
This reminds me that if something is bothering me, I can choose to either fix it or accept that nothing can be done right now, so why complain?
Turn my attention to self-care and happiness – changing what breaks my spirit or brings ijt down, taking more time to reax and revitalize, developing a new frame of mind, drawing up a list of what I need to let go that isn’t working and what I could bring in that would be healthier for me and bring greater happiness.
But it all started by being open to feedback, educating myself, being open to change, and taking radical action to do more praising and less complaining.
An introduction to Qi Gong
Feedback sign in a shop in Auckland
Qi Gong (pronounced Chee Kung) is a holistic practice of coordinating body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for health and spirituality, with roots in Chinese medicine and philosophy.