The Importance of Fair and Balanced Feedback

It can be hard to hear that you didn’t do a good job on a test, in your sport, in the play or another kind of project – but we miss out on a lot if we’re always told “you were the best” or “you were perfect.” Of course, getting credit when it’s well-deserved is important, but the feedback we get from the world around us should be honest and balanced if it is going to be meaningful.

If it feels good to be told you did a great job even if you didn’t, why does it matter? Let’s say that during your childhood years you were always told that you did a great job or you were the best, even if your work or performance was actually just “ok” or “average.” Being told you were “the best” doesn’t give you the opportunity to learn what it feels like to get negative or even neutral feedback. It doesn’t help you learn how to work harder on something in order to make it better. Finally, if it’s all considered “the best” it certainly doesn’t teach you to know what excellent work looks like. It is really an important truth that we learn from our mistakes (maybe as much as we learn from our successes).

If you’ve ever watched American Idol you might already understand this concept. Sometimes contestants sing so poorly that you wonder if someone dared them to do it! In reality, some American Idol contestants seem to actually think they have what it takes to win the show. You have to wonder if they have ever gotten real and honest feedback about their singing. If they had, it might have saved them some very public embarrassment – and prevented them from wasting lots of time imagining that they’d have a career in music.

Let’s consider the different outcomes of exaggerated positive feedback and honest negative feedback.

A 5-year-old boy and his mother are drawing dogs together. When they are finished the son asks his mother “Mom, whose dog is better: yours or mine?”

  • Even though the mother’s dog is clearly much better than her son’s, the mother says, “Your dog is the best!”
  • Since the mother’s dog is clearly much better than her son’s, the mother tells her son that her own dog is the best. She then goes on to explain that since she is older, she has had much more time to practice drawing dogs. If her son works really hard and practices his drawing, the mother explains that he can be as good at drawing as his mother one day – and maybe even better!

Getting balanced (positive and negative) feedback from our families, friends and teachers helps us learn how to handle not being the best and even how to deal with failure at times. Feeling like we can handle setbacks and failure is important to our success because it helps us bounce back and to get better. Without balanced feedback, we won’t have all the tools to handle occasional failures that are a part of everyone’s life!

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