I recently registered for a Coursera class called Giving Helpful Feedback. It’s a 5-week online course taught by University of Colorado Boulder instructor Tracy Jennings.
It seems designed for company managers who must provide regular feedback to employees on their performance. However, anyone can benefit from the lessons and apply it to professional and personal interactions. I’m already trying out some of the approaches on my loved ones.
The human brain is programmed to remember negative feedback more saliently than positive reinforcement. That stems from an old survival mechanism that helped our ancestors identify threats, like poisonous snakes or saber-toothed tigers. Evolution moves like a sloth, though, and our physiology hasn’t caught up with environmental changes.
Fear not, there are ways to short circuit that threat–or at least mitigate the bad feelings resulting from negative feedback. This is where inspirational figures like my new buddy Elton are role models.
The week 2 session includes instruction on negative feedback, when and how to provide it, and the likely outcomes of doing so. One of the videos featured news coverage of Elton Simmons, a Los Angeles traffic cop who provides negative feedback (and issues tickets) as an integral part of his job.
He does it right, and hasn’t even taken this course. Elton just seems to have a knack for delivering bad news while making people smile.
Categorically, no one likes traffic cops or any ticket issuers. These days, more and more people are wary of police officers in general. I have had long-held suspicions of law enforcement myself.
But this guy’s natural demeanor, infectious smile, and genuine respect for every individual with whom he interactions (and pulls over) melts the initial suspicion within moments. Smiling motorists can’t help but like the very officer who just issued a citation, which they admit while still holding their speeding ticket.
Even if you don’t take this course, here is the most important takeaway about providing negative feedback: Don’t be a dick.
If Elton Simmons can make a living issuing traffic tickets while garnering ZERO complaints and delighting motorists after nearly every interaction, you and I can call out bad behavior, hold others accountable, and deliver unpleasant news while treating people with kindness and respect.
Punish the behavior, not the person. And if you can do it with compassion and a genuine smile like Elton Simmons, imagine what a world we can all create and share.