I used to work as a sound technician in my university theatre company, and back then, feedback was something to be avoided at (almost) any cost. But since I left the theatre, I’m a convert. Feedback is a wonderful thing and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!
In the theatre, feedback was the effect of a microphone being able to pick up the speakers it fed to. If I point a microphone at the lead and ask him to sing, the microphone picks up the sound and send it [via various amplifiers etc] to one or more speakers. If one of those speakers is standing behind the lead, he will be able to hear himself (that’s a good thing!) but there’s also a chance that his microphone will be able to hear the noise coming out of the speaker. Because the lead-mic-speaker process is all-but instantaneous, you end up with a feedback loop, which means the mic is picking up infinite copies of the same sound, amplifying them and pumping them out of the speaker, only for the mic to pick them up again. The result: an ear-splitting squeak that everyone in your audience will recognise as a bad thing.
However, outside the world of microphones and speakers, feedback has the opposite effect.
As a lawyer, one of my biggest challenges was the lack of feedback. It’s something we are usually good at providing in the education system, but the big wide world gives up. Many bosses only do any kind of evaluation during the Annual Review and even that can often be more of a formality than a useful exercise; Clients and customers who pay for a service usually take for granted whatever they get, and vote with their feet next time if they don’t like it.
When I became a waitress, things improved somewhat – I think the tipping culture makes customers in a restaurant more inclined to voice their opinions, and also as a waitress, one is expected to request feedback: “How is everything?”
But it is as a writer that I have really found the world of feedback again. Whether through this blog, or my offline writing groups, I have found people who are willing to share their opinions, good and bad, about the stories I write.
With a microphone, it doesn’t matter whether the lead is singing in perfect pitch or horribly off-key, the feedback loop will sound terrible either way. With human feedback, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad: if it is honestly and freely given, the recipient can use it to improve themselves if they choose to. Certainly there are more and less useful ways to give feedback, but frankly, giving it at all would be a good start.
I’m trying these days to give feedback in my daily life whenever I can. It matters to me if people notice whether I’ve gone the extra mile (or slacked off!) today, so I figure maybe it matters to everyone. How do you feel about feedback, both given and received?