Long time back, a hilarious advertisement used to come on TV. In a crowded townbus in a metro, one passenger pushes the man next to him … you know… those elbow pushes!!

Angry, the other man yells.. “ Hey, why did you push me ?”

The first one says with a naughty giggle, “ Okay, I admit.. …, I gave you a push, but why did you take it ?? ”

Joke apart, this captures some very insightful ways of looking at others in your life !! Ordinarily, all of us tend to attach a lot of importance to what others say about us, what others think about us, how others feel about us etc. etc. Well, it is but natural. But to what extent and in what context others’ opinion should matter should always be upto us, not others.

It entirely depends on you, whether others affect you (adversely) or impact you (positively). If you thought the other fellow in the moving bus pushed you ( a verb – where the control lever rests with the other in the environment ), then you are allowing the other to decide how you feel. But if you thought the other fellow gave you a push ( a noun – where you can still retain the verb – i.e. control lever ), then against each give by others, you have a take – about which you get to decide, whether you take it at all, and if you decide to take it, how you would take it !!

Taking Feedback :

Think of the man who got the push !! He was standing in a moving bus, when the fellow passenger pushed him. Now just think about it – if he had his grip tightly on the hold-ons, what, at the worst, could have happened to him? Maximum a jerk, I guess – a slight momentary dislocation of position !! But yes, if he was standing without holding on to anything – but by just supporting himself against others in the crowd (yeah- that also happens in crowded townbuses), then there could be a big problem ! Such a passenger standing in a crowded moving bus and getting pushed by someone else can literally fallhurting himself and others in the vicinity too !!

Point is: you must have grip on some hold-on or other in a moving bus !! Making sense ? Those hold-ons are our own beliefs and convictions about our values, our own abilities, our self-worth, our own goals …, our own reference points internally…. in short ! Once we have this, our position will not get totally destabilised by others’ perception about us. Only when we are shaky about our own convictions and self-worth that we start attaching unwarranted and undue importance to others’ negative feedback on us, without weighing those. Similarly, when we lack a true appreciation of our own abilities and self-worth, we overestimate ourselves based on exaggerated positive feedback on us from others, which is an equally adverse situation.

[ Clarification: Although feedback is a very limited version of other’s perception about you when it gets expressed, or the vice versa, I am taking this liberty to use feedback as something said by others about you or something said by you about others , i.e. views on a particular person ( not something inanimate ). Perception is a very wide concept, needing comprehensive analysis and I am not planning to deliberate on that right now. ]

When I say that you must decide on whether or not to take other’s feedback, I am not at all suggesting that to play it safe, you should totally ignore other’s feedback. In fact one should face it… if one is genuinely interested in growing !!

Taking other’s feedback does not at all mean that we are allowing our reference point to be external. When you shut yourself up against all feedback…. it is like closing your eye to the reality around – the reality of perception of others about you or your actions (may not be the absolute reality) is going to stay there whether you see them or not. Rather, the chances are more that if you do not see them with open eyes, you are likely to imagine ( which could be more unreal and many a time more devastating .. ) ; 2nd ly, if you are not seeing them, you may be losing an opportunity either to clarify your position to those who really matter to you and/or you may be missing out on an opportunity to learn further from other’s wisdom/perspectives and finally grow as a person.

Well, to me, most of the problems we face are rather created by ourselves when we do not know how to take feedback from others. Only when we go overboard by letting other’s feedback control our feelings and action without reflecting on it that we would be allowing ourselves to be governed by others – and that position is neither desirable, nor correct.

Always learn to take feedback – some could be objective and deserving ( in line with the reality – so it could be either positive or negative feedback); some could be exaggerated on a positive side and some could be negative. In any of the three cases, you stand to gain, provided the position from which you are evaluating them is in harmony with your true self and even in case of negative feedback, ultimately this will help you grow out of undeserving negative feedback and let you move on .. .

Know this story of the three racers – all of whom won ( no tie !! )?

A big event of running competition was organised. Among those who ran the race, there was one person who had joined the competition for the first time. He had joined the competition to win over his fear of failure first. There was another person who had joined the race to better his own previous performance. And there was another who had been consistently striving to come first.

The last person actually won the title. He was an obvious winner.

The 2nd person did not make it to even top 5; but his performance was better than his previous record.

There was nothing spectacular about the performance of the 1st person either – apart from the fact that he also ran.

The beauty is all three of them won, because each of them achieved their own goals!! The 1st runner could win over his fear of failure just by participating in the competition. The 2nd person could better his own performance, which was the reason why he had participated in the race. The 3rd one won the title, which was his objective of joining the competition.

Now tell me, if clear about their own goals, how should the 1st & 2nd competitors take feedback of others who saw them as failures just because they did not win the title ? Is there any necessity for them to get upset or unnerved by negative comments of people who do not know or understand their objectives behind participating in the race in the first place ?

As regards the 3rd person, the winner of the title – yes, he must also welcome all the cheers ( positive feedback) and feel legitimately happy and humble – encouraged to try it out for a bigger win next time, instead of allowing pride to creep into him because of others’s high opinion about him.

So taking feedback actually is a very serious job .. needs a lot of maturity. Do take others’ feedback – but evaluate against your honest appreciation of yourself ( grip over the hold-ons in the moving bus for the standing passengers) and decide what to take and what to reject. Don’t react… respond! Do not give the right to anyone else to command how you feel about yourself.

Giving Feedback :

Giving feedback is a still more serious job and requires not only a lot more maturity, but also competence, clear vision and courage – as it requires appraising skills with objectivity and transparency !!

Life in general, and professional life in particular, is an Obstacle Race and where you are now is actually decided partially by the number, nature and timings of the obstacles you have got over till you reached your current position. It is never a level playing field for any two people. Hence, to give feedback on others, you are required not only to have competence to judge the other person’s inherent abilities, but also must possess necessary clear-sightedness to see the obstacles en-route that the other person has braved to get to the current position.

The closer you are to the person you are giving feedback on, chances are more that your feedback will be closer to the reality ( provided you are not biased yourself). Problems get manifold when it comes to giving feedback on persons or phenomena from a distance.

Even if competence is presumed, feedback may still be far from the reality if you are at a distance and can not see the entire pathway travelled by the assessee. In such cases, you must have the willingness to make a conscious effort to see better by using additional tools ( just as you use, say, a pair of binoculars to see distant objects outside your range of normal sight !)

I give the following simple example to drive home my point ( no offense meant to my male friends) :

Compare two persons currently at similar positions – one a male executive and another a female executive – both with children and family – the only difference being the man took a slightly lesser length of service to achieve this as compared to his female counterpart!

It is like both have run obstacle races – only difference is while the track of the man was full of obstacles visible from a distance, a major portion of the woman’s track was full of the visible obstacles similar to the man’s plus a whole lot of small, small pieces of glasses and stone chips spread over her track all through, arresting her speed, but not visible from a distance. In all probability, she still was running with equal or greater ability!!

Basically she was running the race with bruised feet, while he was running with normal bare feet (or with a pair of shoes on!! ).

If you are in a position to see both of them from close quarters, you are likely to rate both of them at least equal, as there is a scope for you to appreciate the small small pieces of glasses and stone chips on her way, over and above the similar obstacles faced by both.

When you are giving feedback on a person who you can see closely, most likely it will turn out to be a realistic reflection on the person being judged. But when you are giving feedback on someone from a distance – it reflects more on your ability to assess and give feedback, rather than a feedback on the other person, unless you make a conscious and conscientious effort to see things clearly overcoming the distance factor, by using additional tools.

We must also introspect how we tend to jump at judging others impulsively when we get a somewhat unacceptable feedback from them on us – without realising that we, too, are getting caught in the same snares !! Lack of objectivity!!

Let us always remember, there is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability- it is the ability to recognize ability .

Next time, you get to hear something complimentary or something nasty, about yourself from someone else, pause and decide for yourself, if that is worth taking or not. And if you decide to take, make sure you take it only to benefit yourself –either as an encouragement or as a constructive criticism, from which you can take tips to grow wiser and happier. I am sure, if only you learn to take feedback in its correct perspective, the whole world of experience can change for you in a dramatic way and you can actually achieve much more … in a positive way.


Anonymous said…
i believe the three racers were running three races on the same plane. Obviously there will be three winners. I will like to believe that in life when it seems that we are sharing the same race actually we are all running our own race. So everybody is a winner in his own right. As to taking feedbacks, i will take it from the person who has run one of my kind. It is as important for the Guru to choose his student as it is for the student to choose his Guru, nay, even more for he places himself/herself at his/her disposal. The stake is on his/her life. i like the analytical comparison in the piece.Keep going.

September 9, 2008 9:31 PM
snigdha said…
Thanks for your feedback – I have decided to take it ( ha, ha ! ). Very correctly said, we all are running our own races and ultimately we ourselves will get to know if we won or lost out. Actually, that is why I am,sort of, skeptical about the term ” winner” – I have always been comfortable with “achiever” or “leader” . You have a goal – small or big, personal or professional – you reach it – you are an achiever and that gives you a positive lift up to move on to another or higher spiral of ceaseless pursuit ! The moment you think in terms of a winner, the story ends there . But in reality, the story never ends ….

September 10, 2008 12:19 PM

Daphne said…


This was an excellent post! I really liked the analogy of being pushed on a bus. Yes, we all need something to hold on to in life so that we can withstand certain unexpected shocks including feedback. I think self-esteem is that thing we need to hold on to, though of course it could be other things like faith.

The story about all 3 runners winning is very nice. Some people say life is more like golf than a race. In golf, you are playing mainly against yourself. If you can master your mind, you will play the game well.

You certainly write very detailed and well thought out posts. I’m so glad I read this one.


November 26, 2008 11:23 AM
snigdha said…
Thanks Daphne – I most certainly liked reading through your article on Opinions. In fact, as I have already expressed on your blog, we are on similar wavelengths and you never cease to amaze me with your lightening speed of writing as also the depth of your contents. Keep going !

November 26, 2008 5:41 PM

Middle Way said…

Very insightful post.

My feeling “peeved” with my associate had more to do with him coming across like everything is fine whenever he is around me when inside, he felt differently.

I would have preferred to have discussed the issue in person. Perhaps that is a truer reflection of our relationship than I had believed we have. Perhaps he felt that I was not able to handle feedback.

Having found out about his comment now, 3 years later, it doesn’t change my business or life direction, it confirms I have chosen what is right for me right now.

February 6, 2009 7:01 PM
snigdha said…
Yes, I can understand your feelings when u got to know about his duplicity 3 yrs later ! And with your clarity about why u work, how much and in what manner, I ve no doubts that you had no probs in handling his feedback. You r definitely on the right course, dear.

February 7, 2009 11:19 AM