Saturday, 18 April 2015

Give me an F

This blog post has been written for the Feedback Carnival, “Feedback would happen all the time if…” conceived and curated by Helen Amery.  

Groans and moans, hands over ears and startled looks at your neighbour, perhaps a nervous laugh and, almost certainly, a sense of relief when it’s over – most of us have experienced the screech of feedback from speakers at a concert or via a public address system. I do a lot of video calls and conferencing with colleagues around the world, although the technology is greatly improved from its early days, there are still times when we suffer audio feedback and our voices are echoed, distorted or delayed – and the conversation becomes awkward. Feedback can be tricky.

Mind you, even audio feedback can be good and/or serve a purpose. Lou Reed’s 1975 album, accurately entitled, Metal Machine Music, supposedly was created entirely from feedback. It is not to everyone’s taste, but it was avant-garde and, even if you don’t like it, you can appreciate the influence it has had on others (ttps:// Other, less dissonant, music has relied on feedback for its impact – Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Wild Thing at the Monterey Festival (

Or the Beatles’ I Feel Fine, recorded in October 1964, ( This is one of the first instances where feedback was recorded on purpose, with Paul McCartney plucking an A on his bass, while John Lennon stood very close to the amplifier to create an extended “twang” through the pickups.

When Helen suggested that people write a piece on the theme of Feedback, for her carnival, I am sure that she was thinking of feedback within the work environment, not audio feedback, but the concept is the same – people are hesitant or unnerved because it can be painful, unpleasant or difficult and sometimes feedback can be manipulative.

The problem is as much with the receiver as the giver – the manner in which we ask, hear and react to observations, as well as the way in which we are told, is the root as to why feedback is seen as difficult and often avoided.
Audio feedback is caused by issues between the microphone that captures the sound, the amplifier that increases the power or impact of the signal and the speaker that projects the noise at a desired audio frequency. Our brains are a bit like the microphone – the thoughts, comments or reactions to what is being said commence here. Our attitude resembles the amplifier – the mood and emotional reaction that we have will impact the way in which a message is conveyed or received. And finally, the speaker is like the mouth speaking or reacting to the message – the tone, volume and nuances in the way that the feedback is delivered or heard (perceived or actual) are the deciding factor as to how the feedback is received.

In some areas of life feedback is the norm. It is hard to imagine a sportsman or athlete not wishing to improve and hence not listening to feedback. Animal trainers and sports coaches both recommend that feedback is provided as swiftly as possible. My sons still laugh about the sight of their grandmother diving across a room to grab a young cat who had just tried to spray the window – she held its nose close to the liquid dribbling down the window pane and it was clear to all that she was cross. Her much loved and devoted cat, Max, is now an elderly, well-behaved tom – I am sure that he learned “the house rules” because of being given swift feedback as soon as it was appropriate.

Max with his sister Molly
Although feedback at work is often problematical, feedback per se is not the issue. Most of us monitor our behaviour and reactions and provide evaluation to ourselves as either kinaesthetic (internal) feedback – i.e. what you feel during or after practicing a skill or doing something (such as “I hit the ball too hard and hence it travelled too far”) or via external data and observations – this could be verbal comments from a coach, colleague or friend; written information such as on an observation sheet or a training “Happy Sheets”; or else some other external input e.g. visual – such as seeing yourself on video; or knowledge based – from analysing data or results and comparing yourself to others (part of the basis of psychometric testing). As humans we seek feedback and confirmation, as we are often insecure and hence want to understand how we are perceived (witness the success of tests such as this one, which I enjoyed: )

Feedback is a constant in so many areas of our lives. Yesterday I had a problem with my mobile – after lengthy discussions with customer service, eventually we sorted the matter out. Within 2 minutes of my ending the call I received a series of texts asking me to rate my experience and to score the provider and their employee’s ability to resolve my problems. This request for feedback is a typical aspect of modern life. Giving and receiving feedback can prove as uncomfortable online as it is offline. Last November a couple were fined £100 for giving a hotel a bad review on Trip Advisor – describing the establishment they had stayed in as a “rotten stinking hovel” - many of us read the story. In our digital world little remains secret for long and many sellers encourage feedback to boost sales, but, just like in the off-line, work environment, some people find criticism hard to take.

However, sometimes feedback is given not so much for the benefit of the receiver but for the delight of a wider audience – witness the customer reviews on many e-tail sites, here are a glorious selection that have amused me:

By Howyon May 29, 2009:
“Obviously the snake oil salesmen who designed this product don't know much about computers or steering wheels. My first and most notable complaint is that you better be sure you're driving on a straight road when you use it, because it is impossible to turn your steering wheel with this attachment. Maybe, because my car is a foreign model, it doesn't fit, but I honestly cannot even back out of my driveway with this thing on.

If you are lucky enough to have a car where this apparatus can fit safely on the steering wheel, I hope you have a satellite internet card, because there is no way you can pick up wifi in a moving vehicle. Finally, I frankly don't see how the airbag is supposed to work without projecting your computer into your face upon collision.

This thing is a scam, and if you think you can be more productive on your drive to work with it, think again. Just bring a magazine or some papers instead to read on your commute.”

By John Grimeson February 7, 2015
“I admit it, I'm a hefty guy. But with the AutoExec, I can comfortably wear those jeans I couldn't even fit into in High School! Before AutoExec, I had a 60" waistline but with AutoExec, I have a svelte 22" waistline for the first time in my life! As an added bonus, I just tap the brakes, and voila! - instant Heimlich manoeuver (tm)!”

Great product!, 3 Sept. 2012 By A keen skier
This review is from: BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black (Office Product)
“My husband has never allowed me to write, as he doesn't want me touching mens pens. However when I saw this product, I decided to buy it (using my pocket money) and so far it has been fabulous! Once I had learnt to write, the feminine colour and the grip size (which was more suited to my delicate little hands) has enabled me to vent thoughts about new recipe ideas, sewing and gardening. My husband is less pleased with this product as he believes it will lead to more independence and he hates the feminine tingling sensation (along with the visions of fairies and rainbows) he gets whenever he picks it up.”

3       Aluminium Foil

Dreams really can come true, 5 May 2012
By Quitegeist (Bolton, England)  
This review is from: Aluminium Foil 18" (450mm x 75m) - industrial size for your kitchen or professional establishment (Misc.)
In many ways, I was raised by the cinema of the 80s. I was an especially big fan of the film Robocop. "One day," I would think, "I too will be a Robot police officer". As the years went by and I grew older, and the hopeful dreams of my childhood vanished into the distance, I resigned myself to the fact that being a robot was not a realistic life goal and devoted myself with single-minded determination to becoming a law enforcement officer. After years of hard work and sacrifice I was awarded my badge, and with my first police officer wage I decided to treat myself to a few DVDs from Amazon. It was then I saw the product that would change my life forever- Vogue Aluminium Foil.

Thanks to Vogue Aluminium Foil, which measures a hedonistic 75 metres and glistens with the hypnotising shimmer of a moonlit desert oasis caught by a breeze, the dreams of my childhood have now been realised. When I wrap my naked body in this lush, extravagant foil I feel transformed, and I wander the streets, mostly at night, fighting crime. While my official position as a member of the police has been revoked as a direct result of these actions, my current life as a robot vigilante is far more rewarding. Dreams really can come true.

Thankyou, Vogue Aluminium Foil. 5 stars. Highly recommended.

4       Horsehead mask

My Transformation is Complete, December 3, 2012
This review is from: Accoutrements Horse Head Mask (Toy)
“It is day 87 and the horses have accepted me as one of their own. I have grown to understand and respect their gentle ways. Now I question everything I thought I once knew and fear I am no longer capable of following through with my primary objective. I know that those who sent me will not relent. They will send others in my place... But we will be ready.”

By Andrew
This review is from: Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Cream 200 ml (Personal Care)
“Being a loose cannon who does not play by the rules the first thing I did was ignore the warning and smear this all over my knob and bollocks. The bollocks I knew and loved are gone now. In their place is a maroon coloured bag of agony which sends stabs of pain up my body every time it grazes against my thigh or an article of clothing. I am suffering so that you don't have to. Heed my lesson. DO NOT PUT ON KNOB AND BOLLOCKS.

(I am giving this product a 5 because despite the fact that I think my bollocks might fall off, they are now completely hairless.)”

As the above illustrate, the feedback that you give says as much about you as it provides constructive support or advice to the recipient. It all comes down to personal motivations, values and desires. In my opinion, Feedback, that is appreciated and valued, would happen all the time if both parties had the right attitude and intentions.

For the record, I welcome feedback and will take it in the spirit it is intended.