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Diversity Agents 2.2.2022

Kemê Pellicer: On Critical Feedback - Deal with it (part 2/2)

Black and white watercolour illustration. Sun is shining and giving light to three flowers, each growing from the ground at their own pace.
Illustration: Alexandra Burda.



If you think I am putting too much emphasis on receiving feedback but neglecting the giving feedback part: you are right! Regardless of any advice or formula, I never found a better way to learn than through my own experience. Therefore, the more we actively seek feedback and process it, the more we internalise how it works and what ways of delivering it work better in each situation.

I find these tips helpful if one feels insecure when giving feedback.

  • Interrupt your biases by asking yourself about the content of your feedback and to whom it is directed.

Neuroscience shows that all humans have biases. The question is, what do we want to do about that? Our biases will shape to whom we give feedback and on what, imposing our notions of performance, talent, worth, etc.

(e.g.) Affinity bias leads us to gravitate towards and get along with people like us. We are also subject to many cultural, racial, and gender biases and stereotypes. Confirmation bias makes us seek out and pay attention to data that confirms our beliefs and ignore or discount data that runs against them.

Ask yourself: “How is this feedback shaped by my own cultural, background or style preferences? If someone else with a different identity acted in that way, would I have the same feedback?”

  • Check your assumptions and consider how you might have contributed to the situation. Ask yourself: Is my assessment grounded on assumptions or in data?
  • Timing. Is there a way of delivering it (when and where) to better ensure that our intention aligns with impact? When possible, feedback should follow quickly after an event while it’s still fresh and referenceable.
  • Keep it constructive and actionable. Your concerns should include advice that the receiver can translate into immediate next steps, rather than telling them what they’ve done wrong just for the sake of getting it off your chest.
  • "Treat others as they would like to be treated" I don't know the origin of this one, but it is as tricky as it is good. What better way to acknowledge our different cultures, identities and differences?
  • Explicitly stating your good intentions and showing respect. This goes a long way toward improving how others hear bad news. 
  • Check for hostility in your tone/body language. They can cause the recipient to shut down or become defensive automatically.
  • Make it a dialogue by asking questions. You can begin your constructive feedback conversation by asking for the other person’s perspective. (e.g.) “What did you think of that report?” or, “I noticed x -  what do you think about that? What impact do you think that may have had?”
  • Offer appreciation before your criticism. Appreciation is a vital form of feedback,  it reinforces positive behaviours and helps us understand our strengths and stay motivated while fostering our sense of belonging.
  • Clarify and contrast. After you have raised your concern or suggestion, you can follow with (e.g.) “What I mean is X. What I don’t mean is Y.” to offer clarity.
  • Keep the dialogue going. Seek to understand the perspective of the other person. Be open to the possibility that you might be missing something in your understanding of events.
I hope this article can help you because processing critical feedback can be challenging. We are born into cultures full of systematic inequalities with different privileges (link to a PDF). Living with these unearned advantages, we internalise different levels of superiority and toxic behaviours so deeply that sometimes it might seem impossible for us to spot them. Even worse, It is even possible that we will never fully unlearn those systems.

What we can do is commit every day to fight our prejudices and toxic behaviours. Do our best to understand how we impact others and our environment by seeking out feedback, which, luckily, is also an opportunity to engage with the world around us while stimulating our critical thinking. Lastly, let’s remind ourselves that a big part of our growth comes from willingness and self-love. 

Read the first part of this text from the perspective of receiving feedback

Kemê Pellicer

Kemê Pellicer (she/her) is a multidisciplinary artist, DEI specialist, culture worker, parent, poet and more than anything, human, based in Helsinki.

Kemê’s bio at the Culture for All Service, Diversity Agents.
Kemê’s website.

Thank you, Arlene Tucker and Tesi de Aegis for your “​​ruthless” feedback on this article.



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