Skip to main content



Treat feedback as a gift, not a scourge

I have always loved cooking. While I don’t cook very much, I try to prepare Sunday dinner as part of a ritual to have a meal at home with my family. Where for 45 minutes, we can chat and catch up.

Better decisions have something to do with views that are contrary, says the author.

Better decisions have something to do with views that are contrary, says the author.

Follow us on TikTok and Instagram, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

I have always loved cooking. While I don’t cook very much, I try to prepare Sunday dinner as part of a ritual to have a meal at home with my family. Where for 45 minutes, we can chat and catch up.

Perhaps because I don’t cook often, it becomes important to me to know how the meal was. So I always ask “so how was it?” and then  brace myself for the response.

My younger son believes in giving unvarnished feedback. “Not good”, “Too salty”, “Can’t finish this”. That’s like Gordon Ramsey speaking to me.

His older brother is far more diplomatic. “That was nice, maybe a little salty”. “Good”, “Not bad” are usually his go-to responses.

To be fair to both of them, they are always very effusive when the meal is good. While that always makes me feel good, I am more interested in negative feedback because it shows me exactly what didn’t work and what to avoid the next time.

Read also

But I’d be lying if I said that a tell-it-like-it-is response didn’t hurt.

Which led me to think about how people give and accept feedback in general.

In my experience, there are broadly two categories of people — those who have no qualms telling others what they think (I fall under this one) and those who would rather have a root canal than to speak their minds.

Mostly, their reasons are that they have nothing good to offer or that nothing they say is going to change anything.

Both are real possibilities, I agree. But that (rather Singaporean) philosophy misses such a critical component in the way we work, the decisions we make and, I would go so far as to say, how creative we are in solving problems.

Recently, during a meeting, a colleague stopped me to say he noticed that I always started my sentences with no.

Like “no, no, this is what I think.’’

Read also

His comment jolted me and I took a while to process the information. And when I did, I realised, he had given me a valuable gift.

He held up a mirror so I could see what I couldn’t any other way. And how is it that no one told me this before? I found the episode quite fascinating.

But it also got me thinking that perhaps he could be honest with me because we are equals, we get along outside of work, in social settings. Would he or I have the courage to say it to our line supervisor?

Over dinner with my friends, one of them shared that her immediate boss had a habit of sending long, rambling emails and scolding staff without having first found out what was the issue.

I asked her why she couldn’t tell him about this and she looked at me with genuine horror. “Are you crazy? Do you know how senior he is?”

Is it really so crazy though?

Perhaps this is where we need to listen to and learn from the Americans.

Take for instance Group President for Caterpillar, Denise Johnson, who was the keynote speaker at a media event I attended. She was taking questions from women leaders in her organisation — a vast, sprawling mega business — and one of the questions was on how she makes decisions. Her answer was constructive:

“I tell my key team leads: help me not to be tone deaf. Am I listening to views that are different from mine? Each time we do that, we make better decisions.’’

That’s the golden nugget right there. Better decisions have something to do with views that are contrary.

Or at the very least, the opportunity to engage with contrary views, without getting so caught up with who and how the message was being delivered.

Read also

Jeff Bezos famously built his Amazon empire not by bulldozing what he thought was right (although given his personality, I am sure there was some of that) — but he was also smart enough to assemble a crack team whose “deep, divergent thinking” shaped his own business ideas.

Of course, as these two folks run their businesses, they are the top dogs so to speak. If you are lowly minion down the totem pole, your reality is vastly different.

But we shouldn’t miss an embedded point: that for the Johnsons and Bezos of the world, being challenged is par for the course — they are confident and wise enough to realise that they already have power. And that divergent or disagreeable voices makes them stronger, not weaker.

Yes, feedback from bottom up is complicated because, well, people and cultures are complicated. Some people bruise easily and the lack of power means there’s a lot of fear.

Or perhaps many of us simply don’t have the ability to speak clearly, unemotionally, addressing the issue rather than the person.

Quite often, it is the understandable human need for self-preservation which quickly dissolves every ounce of courage our anger or outrage can muster. And this is why we routinely brush aside unreasonable behaviour.

Quite often, those in positions of power don’t really want to listen to feedback too because it adds too much chaos to the mix and they’d rather just do what they think is best.

What might be instructive is to look at how top teams conduct meetings, how good leaders listen to and give feedback. And when I mean top teams, I mean the guys who drive change in the industries they are in — the Googles and Facebooks of the world who deal with deeply complicated products and services.

And look not just at how their leaders do it, but the ones who work in the rank and file. What is their role in the larger decision-making scheme? How are their views heard, considered and calibrated?

If that is not possible, then one way for managers to deal with this is to re-frame how we look at feedback — that instead of treating it like a scourge, think of it as a gift.

A gift that may hurt but will more importantly make a difference to how we work and the decisions we make.

Particularly if those decisions have consequences on the lives of ordinary people. Or in my case, better lamb chops for dinner.



Crispina Robert, a mother of two, is a former journalist who now teaches media studies.

Related topics

feedback parenting workplace culture

Read more of the latest in



Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.