I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback
There is also a more rational perspective about our psychic functioning that is offered by the Nobel-Prize winning Behavioral Economists, Daniel Kahneman (2011). He identifies a process called “slow thinking”. While we spend most of our time racing around under the dictates of fast thinking, there are times that we slow down (or should slow down) and become more reflective. Each of us knows that we are not perfect and that it is a good thing to be aware of and thoughtful about our areas of weakness. We are aware that there is much we can learn about ourselves – and this knowledge about our self typically resides among other people in our life. We know that the people who know us best (and have our best-interest at heart), can tell us things about our self that will be hard to hear but are important for our own ongoing maturity. We don’t have to head off to the train station. Instead we can carefully listen to the “truths” other people have to offer. Ah, if only we were always so wise and courageous—the train is about to leave the station . . .
Close to Home
As the author of this essay, I don’t have to go very far when illustrating the reactions to negative feedback. I serve as president of an independent graduate school. Several years ago, we conducted a major survey (called a “constituency analysis”) with the students and alumni of my school. While the survey provided valuable information with regard to program offerings, post-graduate benefits of the school, and the role played by tuition level in decisions to attend the school, there were also additional comments made regarding the administration and faculty of the school. While virtually all of the comments were quite positive about me, as the president, there was one comment that struck quite a cord: “Bergquist is a big blow-hard and he should have retired many years ago!”
This comment was not easy to read. As Sigmund Freud would suggest, this comment triggered signal anxiety in me. My own self-image was threatened. In short, I was disturbed and resistant. As the person to whom this comment was directed, I took it quite hard and still recall the content of this comment and my reactions to it. It is still hard to read (and quote in this essay). As many studies regarding performance evaluations have revealed, it is usually the negative evaluations we remember – not the positive. Why is this the case – or why specifically was this the case with me? These comments had a lingering sting because in many regards they rang true. I am a blowhard and often speak too long or interrupt other people when they are trying to say something.