My second article on os.me was titled Seven Pounds and More, written with excitement after Medha Shri ji’s editorial piece on Will Smith. I wrote this up in a couple of hours, and after a cursory attempt at editing, I published it. Several people posted kind comments. Some excerpts: “Thank you for your thought-provoking article”, “Great takeaways of the movie”, “The whole post is full of inspiration and wisdom”. And more.

All of these made my day, and had me continue writing more, and becoming more involved on os.me. My family joined the party and gave me kind words. My wife thought it was a good read. My mom told me that I was talented.

The most helpful comment was from my brother: “Prahalad, I was rather surprised why you asked me to read this article.” I nodded affirmatively, encouraging him to continue: “I haven’t seen the movie, so a lot of this was disjointed. You could have issued a disclaimer that the article was intended for people who watched the movie, or you could have provided a better background assuming that the audience hasn’t seen the movie.”

Yes, indeed. The scene where Ezra Turner is slow to anger on the face of the most horrific abuse struck me so profoundly, but I had failed to convey my intensity in the article. Now, why did I consider my brother’s comment to be the most helpful comment? Because it provided feedback. 

His comment got me thinking about feedback and related aspects. Here they are: 

Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

This is a quote that is attributed to Ken Blanchard. Jack Canfield, in his book The Success Principles, outlines an exercise that he gives his participants in seminars. He blindfolds a person, and they have to navigate the room based on instructions from others. If they claim “No, I will not listen to feedback”, they will not be able to navigate the room. But that is precisely what a lot of people do – try to navigate this world blindfolded, rejecting feedback blindly.  Swamiji mentioned in one of His discourses (in May 2015 at the Ashram), while it is of paramount importance to lead one’s life on one’s own terms without being told what to do by others, it also important to listen to feedback with an open mind. 

Specificity 

In his feedback, my brother gave specific feedback which I could take and use it to improve my writing going forward. By contrast, feedback along the lines of “Your article sucks” is less beneficial, because it doesn’t give actionable information. That said, “Your article sucks” is useful enough in that I am alerted that there is some missing piece in my article, and I can look to see what it is (provided I don’t wallow with self-pity on the “insult” and binge-watch Netflix to drown my sorrows).

On the Backdrop of Kindness

I could particularly appreciate my brother’s feedback, because it was on top of the kindness that the os.me community bestowed on my article. Suppose every comment on os.me had been along the lines of “That was a waste of time. Thanks for nothing.”, “The Golden Raspberry Awards should make an exception and award a razzie for your article”, “Dude, your article sucks”, then my brother’s comment would have been piling on.

The Asymmetry of Giving and Receiving Feedback

I suspect the most successful people have the skill to distill the contents of all feedback, casting aside the tone, way of presentation, and other extraneous factors. These people would be objective even in the face of 100 unpleasant comments, looking to see what they can learn from the comments.

When giving out comments, it is important to remember that the above category of people is far and few. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice the asymmetry of being kind in giving feedback and being resilient when receiving feedback.

Invite your Enemy for Coffee

Here are Rolf Dobeli’s words from The Art of Thinking Clearly

Do you have friends who tell you the truth – no holds barred? If so, consider yourself lucky. If not, do you have at least one enemy? Good. Invite him or her over for coffee and ask for an honest opinion about your strengths and weaknesses. You will be forever grateful that you did.

Komal has written a brilliant article on this subject: Sparring Partners

Caveat: Avoid Unpleasantness in the Name of Objectivity

I am a part of another online community (I won’t say which one), where objective discussions are encouraged. However, in the name of objectivity, kindness takes a backseat, and flame wars are all too common. The kindness that radiates in os.me is unparalleled. Some of the comments are good enough to brighten several days. 

Final Words

I have often wondered, given the plethora of talented writers in os.me, why isn’t there more feedback given on various aspects of writing? I answered my own question: Feedback is best offered when asked. Unsolicited feedback is best avoided, especially when we are unsure whether the recipient wants it or not. The last thing one wants to do is scare away budding writers in the name of offering feedback. 

This being the case, dear os.me family: I request, invite and encourage you to give me feedback on any aspect of my writing, it will be much appreciated. If you feel you’d be comfortable offering it to me in private, you can email me at prahalad.rajkumar@gmail.com .

Image Credit: Stux from Pixabay

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