Feedback and Failure
Did you know that:
- Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor believed Disney had no imagination?
- J.K. Rowling got rejected by 12 publishers before the Harry Potter manuscript ended up being published?
- Steven Spielberg was rejected twice by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts?
- Steven King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected 30 times?
- Colonel Sanders didn’t really become a professional chef until he was 40, his KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) wasn’t franchised until he was 62, and he didn’t become the icon he is today until after he sold the company when he was 75?
Yet, all of these names are now well-known. You have heard about these people. You associate them with success, and not failure. You might even perceive them as people who got lucky. You might wonder how they reacted when they got negative feedback; you might wonder what they did when they got a positive one.
That said, regardless of what you may think, one thing is for sure - these people have known both success and failure. And while the latter doesn’t sound as fun as the former - a lot of the time we have to experience both.
And we hope our article explains why.
What Are Feedback and Failure?
According to the Macmillan Dictionary, feedback denotes “comments about how well or how badly someone is doing something, which are intended to help them do it better”, whereas failure has been defined as “lack of success”.
And while many are comfortable defining these two concepts and discussing them in theory, a lot of people dread them in practice. This is so because they mostly associate them with “bad” experiences.
So, failure is always linked to a hopeless event, full of disappointment and defeat. Feedback is oftentimes perceived as negative, triggering, and belittling. However, this is just one aspect of this. In other words, there’s so much more when it comes to both feedback and failure.
For instance, feedback can be positive, but the negative one can be embraced too. Also, failure can be perceived as a learning lesson rather than as a permanent defeat, as we briefly explained in our introduction.
And to illustrate all this, we’ll provide relevant examples, discuss different aspects of both failure and feedback, and help you understand how to interpret episodes of failures and instances of feedback.
Feedback and Failure Definition
Feedback and failure are:
- necessary, although a lot of people would rather not “deal with them”;
- said to help us grow;
- intense experiences and may deeply affect us (depending on how we’re used to coping with things);
- insightful experiences (if we allow them to be).
Feedback and failure aren’t:
- always comfortable, but they’re there for a reason;
- permanent (they’re subject to change - one day we fail other days we succeed, the same applies to feedback - we may be praised for some aspects, but other days we end up being criticized for a job that wasn’t well done; it’s simply life);
- meant to get us off-course or away from our goals (in fact, cherishing them and understanding them for what they are can make us progress on our journeys much faster);
- as scary as we make them out to be (for instance, the more we consider feedback to be a normal and useful thing, the normal thing to do is to embrace it, rather than considering it as an intimidating experience).
The History of Feedback and Failure
We have this section in all our articles as you may have noticed by now, and what we usually do is that we talk about the historical development of whatever our topic is. So, if we’re discussing money, we’ll trace money all the way back to their early beginnings. If we’re writing about emotional intelligence, we’ll write about where the term originated from, who mentioned it first, and how we ended up with today’s “interpretation” of emotional intelligence.
You get the point.
However, this time we want to do something different. Feedback and failure are notions that don’t really comply with such historical developments and rules (at least not the way we’d expect them to).
Rather, we believe they’re better understood through each person’s individual history.
What this means is that we’d like to invite you to jog your memory and think about your own history with these two concepts. In essence, think about the following:
- What do feedback and failure mean to you personally?
- What kind of experiences have you had so far when it comes to these two notions?
- What kind of positive feedback have you received so far?
- What kind of negative feedback have you received?
- Have you ever given positive/negative feedback to someone?
- How would you explain failure? What’s your biggest failure to date? What’s your biggest success?
- How do you see your future - are you seeing yourself as a failure or as a success? And what does it depend on?
- How have your recent feedback and failure experiences shaped your current reality? Where do you go from here?
Contemplate these questions. Think about your past experiences. Reflect upon your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Understand your own personal history so that you can be ready to receive the future.
Why Are Feedback and Failure Important?
Feedback is important because:
- it’s part of effective communication;
- it facilitates one’s learning process;
- it improves people’s confidence (of course, this depends on how well the person receives feedback and how good the feedback “giver” is at giving it - if they’re harsh and criticizing, for instance, their feedback won’t be perceived in a productive manner);
- it gives people an opportunity to grow and embrace the things they’re good at, but also work on some skills or characteristics that they lack;
- it’s a sign of good listening skills (in order for a person to get feedback, the other one needs to actively listen to what they’re saying - of course it’s not just listening, there’s watching, reading, closely observing, and so on);
- it helps people improve their performance capacity.
Failure is important because:
- it can greatly motivate (of course, as long as people don’t give up);
- it shows us what we need to change in order to succeed;
- it helps us learn and grow from our mistakes;
- it helps build resilience;
- it shapes our personality and determination;
- it helps us learn important life lessons and also gain relevant experience;
- it creates an amazing opportunity for self-growth and self-reflection;
- It helps us see new paths and consider opportunities we may have ignored before.
How to Deal With Feedback and Failure?
How we deal with the tricky, unpleasant things in our lives is how we probably handle feedback and failure, too. In other words, if we tend to respond to others in an angry manner; if we usually yell at people who annoy us, and we have no patience to listen to what others say/need, then it’s more than likely we’ll do the same in moments of failure and/or receiving feedback (this mostly applies to negative feedback - who is angry when they hear only good things being said to and about them, right?).
Now, there’s not a single way to correctly deal with feedback and failure. In essence, each person has their own way of handling such moments. And they usually cope with them in stages.
For instance, when someone fails they might be in denial at first. Then, they may start thinking about what happened and what went wrong. Next, they start planning their upcoming move and how they can fix things.
Others might try to escape from having to deal with the consequences of such experiences, so they start developing coping mechanisms such as bottling up their emotions, overeating, drinking alcohol, and so on. It all depends on how big of a failure they consider theirs to be.
That said, we consider each way of handling failure to be a decent one as long as it’s not harmful to our health and the people around us. The same applies to dealing with not-so-positive-feedback.
In other words, find your own methods and your own way of processing things. For some it may be easier to go through such experiences on their own, so they tend to self-reflect and evaluate where they are in life. For others, it’s more acceptable to talk about things, and they open up to their friends, family members, even colleagues, and so on. Some might even opt for therapy.
Everything works as long as it’s helping us grow, learn, and move forward in our lives with greater ease.
Examples of Feedback and Failure in Everyday Life
Everyone fails at some point in the education system.
Even the whole educational system is perceived as “complete failure” at times.
Now, before you perceive education and everybody involved in it as doomed, we need to consider failure in a slightly different manner. We need to see failure as crucial to the learning process. We need to see it as a precursor of change. Only then does the concept of failure receive a less negative connotation and a more productive role in our lives.
So, how can we actually explain failure in education? What does it mean to fail?
For educatees, it means that….
- they dropped out of school;
- they did poorly on an exam;
- they struggle with a subject and can’t seem to understand things no matter how hard they try (and no matter how many extra tutors their parents may have paid for);
- their educator said they’re a failure/they’ve failed in front of the entire class;
- they may have lost their self-esteem somewhere along the way;
- they can’t seem to fit in their class and/or any school group, therefore the whole school; experience becomes a torture, hence, they’re “prone” to failing at it;
- their parent(s) told them their sibling was better at ________ (fill in the blank with a subject);
- their peers mocked them for an answer they gave in front of everybody;
- they had a bad day and did poorly at school;
- they forget about the project they were supposed to bring;
- they missed a deadline;
- they couldn’t take notes because they had a headache and their educator scolded them because they weren’t paying attention, and so on.
For educators, it means that…
- they couldn’t seem to remember their educatees’ names no matter how hard they try;
- they forgot to prepare their lesson plans;
- they didn’t manage to grade their exams/papers on time;
- their educatees cheated on their tests;
- they found out a group of educatees has been saying bad stuff about them behind their back;
- a parent came in and said bad things to their face;
- most of their educatees got low grades on their test, therefore, it might mean they didn’t teach them well and/or they didn’t prepare an adequate test;
- they chose inadequate books and materials to give their educatees;
- they feel their educatees prefer the other educators;
- an educatee asked them a question, but they weren’t sure how to answer it or they didn’t know the answer at all;
- an educatee found a mistake in the test or on the board;
- they don’t have enough experience, therefore, they’re not as good other educators;
- they had certain goals for this specific academic year, yet most of them were unmet;
- they failed to encourage, help, or guide a student (or students) in need - be it educational or personal;
- they unfairly graded an educatee (and they usually reflect on it post-lesson - probably even at home during the evening), and so on.
For parents (yes, parents are also part of the educational system), it means that….
- they didn’t make it to their child’s degree ceremony;
- they couldn’t afford a private tutor when needed;
- they couldn't explain something to their child, so now they’re worried what their child will think about them;
- they think their child’s low grades are their fault;
- if their child gets into constant fights with other classmates or bullies others physically/psychologically, then there’s clearly a problem at home;
- if their child refuses to share things (such as pencils, pens, erasers, and so on) with their classmates, then they made some mistakes in upbringing;
- they forgot to buy school materials (such as art supplies) although their child reminded them, and now they have to go to school without them, and they’ll probably get a minus;
- their child’s educator called them to complain about their child’s behavior at school;
- their child refused to help another child struggling with a specific subject although their child is quite good at it, etc.
All the above-mentioned examples indicate that failure is a very individual experience. For instance, for a straight A student getting a C would be a failure; however, for a struggling student getting a C would be a relief as they probably won’t have to retake the test so they’re simply glad they passed it. It’s all about perspective and it’s all about someone’s individual ambitions, goals, and personalities.
Feedback within the classroom
The same applies to getting feedback. Different people react differently to various types of feedback. For some, it can be seen as encouragement, whereas others may perceive it as criticism. Oran Tkatchov suggests the following approach:
Being supportive and building students’ confidence is not accomplished by blindly telling them they are doing a great job every day. It involves assessing weaknesses and strengths and delivering feedback in a timely manner so that they can build their skills to complete the task at hand.
We should keep in mind the same suggestions when we’re considering the feedback educators get. It’s not just the educatees that are vulnerable and/or the only ones getting feedback. Feedback matters to educators as well.
All in all, failure and feedback in education shouldn’t be feared or seen as anything daunting. If anything, they should be embraced for what they are - even when they’re harsh, uncomfortable, and hurtful. It’s the only way for everyone within the educational system to grow as individuals.
How to approach this?
If you’re the educator:
- What do you perceive as being your biggest failure in the classroom? Why? Think about the details. Were things really that bad? What did this experience show you about your teaching style and beliefs?
- Think of a lesson you taught that didn’t go so well. What did you do about it? Did you have to improvise on the spot? How did you feel about the whole situation? Do you think your educatees noticed something was off? What was their reaction? Did they give you any feedback? What was their feedback like?
- Do you need to acquire new skills, tools, and/or resources in order to feel more successful at what you do? Where can you start?
- How do you usually give feedback to your educatees? Do you prefer written feedback or oral feedback? Have you maybe tried both? Which one works better? Why?
- Do you think all educators should receive feedback from their educatees? Why? Why not? Do you think this is something unusual (as typically it’s the educators who give feedback, and not the other way around)? How can the educational system make sure that educatees are being objective and not just trying to get back at their educator?
- Are there any classroom management strategies that can help educatees cope better with failure and mistakes? Do you employ any of them? Have they proved to be effective?
- When you teach, are you able to spot how receptive your educatees are? In other words, can you notice whether they struggle to understand what you’re saying even without them having to say that?
- Do you perceive all instances of failure to be invaluable learning lessons? In what way?
- How can educators create a welcoming atmosphere in the classroom so that both educators and educatees feel free to share their true thoughts, concerns, and feedback?
- Does finding out your pupils/students cheated on the test/exam make you feel like a failure? If yes, why? Also, would you confront those educatees in front of everybody else or would you talk to them individually? What kind of approach works better? Why?
- According to you, how much do the following factors contribute to an educatee’s failure:
- the family’s income?
- the relationship the parents have with one another?
- the number of siblings?
- the parents’ education?
- problems in the educatee’s life?
- an educatee’s lack of background knowledge?
- an educatee’s disinterest in a specific subject?
- an educatee’s inability to study properly?
- an educatee’s low motivation?
If you’re the educatee:
- Have you ever failed a test, an exam, a project? Have you ever failed a classmate or your educator? What exactly happened? What did you learn from this experience? Did it happen again?
- How can failure affect your learning?
- Is there anything productive about failure? In other words, can it motivate you to do better next time or to simply put in more effort in order to see different results?
- How do you cope with negative feedback? Does that make you look inward - reflect on your learning practices and habits - or does it make you “hate” your educator because of their feedback?
- What does it mean to be a successful educatee? Does it mean you have all straight A’s, you never skip a class, you always have the answers to all the questions, all your educators love you, and so on? Or perhaps you have a different understanding of it?
- How much does your parents’ feedback regarding your grades and overall school engagement matter to you? Have you ever felt discouraged by your parents? Why? What happened? Did you talk to them about the way you felt? If you did, what was their response?
- How much of a role does the educator have when it comes to an educatee’s success? In other words, does it all depend on the educatee, or does the educator somehow contribute to it, too?
- Do you think classmates comparing their grades is unhealthy or could it serve as a motivation for those who scored less on a specific test/exam? Provide arguments to support your claim(s).
- Do you think being successful in school means you’ll be successful at work and in life in general later on? Why? Why not?
- Do you think one of the main reasons why educatees fail at school is because they don’t know how to manage their time properly and simply have too many distractions (such as Netflix, their phones, their tablets, laptops, and so on)?
- Can failure somehow create a positive outcome? Why? Why not?
- What can make educatees talk more freely about their struggles, issues, and concerns? Would it be having a more approachable educator? Perhaps a friendlier psychologist? Or maybe an informal lesson about why it’s perfectly normal for them to open up about their struggles instead of keeping things to themselves?
- As an educatee, how comfortable would you be to give feedback to your educator? Are you afraid that if you say/write something “bad” you might get a lower grade?
For many, having a successful career and a steady salary is the definition of success. So, when things go sour or unexpected twists and turns happen on our career journey (such as getting fired, not getting the promotion we anticipated, and so on), we may start feeling like a failure and think that things will never change.
It’s interesting how little it takes for people to feel so “bad” about their work. In other words, a simple thing such as not getting a promotion or a colleague getting a reward for something you’ve done can make us feel so disempowered and as though everything we’ve done so far was for nothing.
Yet, this happens time and time again. And there could be several reasons for this:
- workers may be setting unrealistic expectations (for instance, they plan to do two projects in one week, and they end up needing two weeks only for one project, but that’s only because the project turned out to be huge and a lot of revisions were needed, so now they feel like they’re falling behind with their work, hence, their goals);
- they feel others are always better than them, therefore, they’re not good enough (they don’t seem to be embracing their individuality);
- they lack self-esteem and self-confidence and they take things personally most of the time, and so on.
Also, it’s worth noting that both employers and employees are prone to feeling like this. It’s not just employees who have this issue. In fact, even ambitious employers and CEOs struggle with this. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise - after all, they’re the ones making the “big” decisions, and therefore, the pressure to succeed and do things right is much greater, too.
That said, we need to give more specific examples to fully understand the concept of failure and how it applies to workers. So let’s see how employers and employees perceive it and what it means “to fail” within your workplace.
For employers, it means that…
- they didn’t behave toward an employee the way they should have;
- they decided not to show up at work a few times because no one’s checking up on them, but somewhere along the way they felt guilty;
- an employee quit and went to work for a competitor;
- a client stopped using their company’s services and opted for a competitor;
- they procrastinate a lot;
- they neglected their employees’ needs and remarks for a while;
- they forgot to take their employees’ mental health into account;
- they sometimes feel like all employees are against them;
- they fear they hired the wrong people;
- they delegate tasks in an illogical manner (for instance, some employees may end up with a plethora of tasks, while others may not have enough - this may cause chaos within the workforce);
- their company’s revenue has significantly decreased compared to last year’s income;
- they don’t like most of the decisions they’ve made the past week/month/year - they feel it’s driving the company backward, rather than forward;
- they feel their job position is a lonely one, and so on.
For employees, it means that…
- they don’t feel they’re using their full capacity;
- they don’t get along with their peers and feel like they don’t fit it, but can’t figure out what it is they’re doing wrong;
- they think they’re unqualified for the job;
- they think their job position is becoming monotonous, but don’t know what to do next (for instance, whether they should start looking for another job or ask for a different position within the same company);
- they fear working for this company may be a waste of time (for whatever reason - for instance, they can’t see how their job position could become a senior one and/or they never seem to get promoted);
- they miss a deadline;
- they have a dispute with a client and their employer hears about this;
- they stop feeling as an asset to the company for some reason;
- they start feeling lazy, uncreative, demotivated, and unfocused;
- they fail at maintaining a healthy life-work balance;
- they see their colleagues overworking and so they might feel they’re not doing enough, and many others.
That said, in the previous section about Education we mentioned that failure is relative and we gave an example with two educatees getting a C. Here we’d like to make the same point - failure within the workplace is perceived individually, too.
For instance, let’s say an employee has been preparing for a very important presentation - it’s a project they’ve been working on for a while now; they feel this could be an important moment in their career - they hope to get some formal recognition for it, perhaps even a promotion, so they envision all these things and get their hopes up because they’re really ambitious and ready to take their career to the next level. Now, let’s imagine the presentation goes smoothly, however, neither a formal recognition nor a promotion follow. All they get is compliments and a promise for a bonus at the end of the month.
They feel devastated, disappointed, and discouraged. What was supposed to bring them success is now perceived as a total failure, or at least “not enough success” (breadcrumbs, in a sense).
Now imagine the same presentation task - only this time it’s being prepared by an average employee. This employee has no other ambitions, they simply wish to get this task done. They have no aspirations, they don’t wish to get any promotion because that would mean having more responsibilities and more tasks. So, the presentation takes place, and the employee receives the same as the previous one - compliments and a promise for a bonus. This employee will probably be thrilled and quite satisfied with themselves.
On the whole, it’s all about our own personal ambitions, the amount of effort and expectations we put into things, as well as our own perception of failure and hence, success.
Feedback within the workplace
Now, what does this mean in terms of feedback?
What role does feedback play in one’s workplace?
And when money, colleagues, and bosses are concerned - can we truly talk about receiving and giving honest feedback?
We’d like to think so. At least that’s what intelligent and conscious workers are expected to do. The problem comes from feedback being seen as criticism - that’s why so many people dread negative feedback or simply getting feedback for something in general. However, if the act of getting feedback is seen as something that can help us do our job better - why not embrace it?
That means being willing to hear out what your employer has to say about your latest presentation/project/task/meeting notes, and so on. It means being able to speak to your peers about THEIR performance, and let them know what stood out for you, what needs to be re-worked, and what needs slight adjustment. It means giving credible feedback to your employer when you’re asked to submit one.
We can’t forget the clients/customers too. In other words, the notion of feedback isn’t only about employees getting feedback from their employer and vice versa - the employers getting feedback from their employees. It’s about what their customers have to say too (of course, this may differ and/or be irrelevant depending on the line of work in question).
After all, Adam Smith said that “people who succeed in business aren't afraid to hear feedback from their customers -- they actually thrive from it.” And this is all we need to know about the client’s feedback.
On the whole, feedback within the workplace should be perceived as something that pushes the whole company to the next level, improves everyone’s performance, and enhances the workers’ dedication (including that of employers) and productivity levels.
How to approach this?
If you’re the employer:
- What makes one employer successful? What qualities should they have? How should they behave? How should they treat their employees?
- Do you think running a big company makes you a great employer by default? Or are there some other factors which matter more, like happy employees and a healthy, positive work environment? What about money? Do you think earning a lot makes you successful?
- Do you personally give feedback (both positive and negative) to your employees or do you appoint other people to do it? Let’s say an employee prepared a report and they presented it in front of the other employees, but they weren't happy with what they heard. What would you do? What kind of feedback will you give your employee? Would you like to read the report first? Would you be interested in hearing what the rest of the employees think about it?
- What are the biggest challenges employers face?
- Do you tend to give all employees equal recognition for their work? How do you do it? Do you think having performance reviews is a good way to go about it? Also, should they be announced or should they “happen” randomly or when there’s a true need for it (for instance, an employee had a great presentation in a meeting with a client and you want to let them know how satisfied you are with their performance and commitment)?
- Imagine you encounter a very serious business challenge, and have no idea how to overcome it. You are afraid that you are going to fail because you have to take some risks. What will happen? What will you do? Are you prepared to take risks in order to succeed? Do you ask for help? Or are you ready to give up on everything because you’re too concerned about what may go wrong if you fail?
- Are you happy about your employees' successes? Are you happy because you see their success as your company’s success or because they’re making progress as professionals and individuals?
- What are the most important skills in order to succeed in this position (being an employer)? What kind of mindset should one have?
- If an employee comes up to you and tells you you’re not doing a good job as an employer or that you’re not professional enough, and so on, would you let this have an impact on your self-esteem? Are you going to start re-evaluating yourself and your values based on this negative feedback? How much do your employees’ opinions matter to you? And how much do you let them affect you?
If you’re the employee:
- Think about a time when things didn’t work out the way you planned. What did you do? What was the problem? What did you learn from this experience?
- How do you usually deal with setbacks?
- What diferentes a successful employee from an unsuccessful one?
- How can one fail at their job? In other words, what classifies as being a failure at your job? Is one mistake a failure for you or is it a series of mistakes? Perhaps you get a very low salary? Your one-time promotion inquiry got rejected? Or you got rejected a few times? Maybe your co-workers dislike you? You don’t seem to hit it off with your employer?
- How does failure affect your self-esteem when it comes to their career?
- How important is your employer’s feedback to you regarding your performance, productivity, and achievements?
- How much do the following things matter for employees to feel more motivated and united within their workplace: after-work parties, team-building events and activities, seminars, webinars, bonuses, and so on?
- How can you ask for feedback at work?
- What accompaniments at your current job position are you the most proud of so far?
- What goals did you meet this quarter? Where have you fallen short?
- What motivates you the most to get things done? What demotivates you?
- What are the ideal working conditions in order for employees to feel the most productive?
- If you’re being interviewed for a job position you truly want and you get asked to talk about your biggest failure in your career so far, what would you say? Would you be honest? Perhaps you’d come up with a story on the spot? What’s the best way to go about it?
- How can getting positive feedback maximize your strengths? Also, can negative feedback make your weakness come to the surface?
- Have you ever received feedback from a colleague? What was it about? How did it make you feel about the work you do? Also, have you ever given feedback to any of your peers? Was it voluntarily? Did this change the relationship you have with your colleagues? If yes, in what way?
- Is there anything holding you back from doing your best work? What is it? What does it take for you to overcome it?
- Do you see yourself as a valuable asset to your company? How do your role, skills, and qualifications help the success of the company you work at?
- Do you feel comfortable expressing your concerns and struggles with your employer? Are you afraid they’ll perceive you as being not good enough? Or you have a solid relationship with your employer and you know they’ll understand your concerns?
What does it mean to fail at a relationship?
What causes relationships to fail?
And how do we know that a specific relationship is doomed?
Every person has a different answer to each of these questions. This is so because dealing with interpersonal relationships is such an individual experience - we all have different criteria when it comes to dating, forming friendships, deciding to get married or not, relationships with our family members, and so on.
However, there are many general examples and red flags within relationships. In other words, there are many things that can happen which will make people perceive a specific connection as a failure/headed toward failure such as:
- family members fighting over an inheritance and not talking to each other any more the way they used to;
- two people getting married and then realizing that one of them doesn’t want a child, whereas the other person dreams of becoming a parent;
- one person cheating in the relationship and the other one finding out;
- people giving false promises, meaning they never keep their end of the deal;
- the two spouses’ parents constantly interfering through suggestions, comments, remarks, and advice;
- domestic violence;
- a person claiming to be someone’s friend does stuff behind their back;
- friends lying to each other and then the lies get exposed;
- people putting others in uncomfortable situations;
- people promising to help others and then disappearing;
- people using others in order to satisfy their personal needs;
- people bottling up their feelings in relationships and then exploding;
- people fighting (verbally) rather than trying to communicate in a calm manner;
- people refusing to talk about the future or make plans;
- people being selfish and constantly talking only about themselves without acknowledging the feelings of others;
- people being inconsiderate about things that matter (for instance, someone constantly talking about their baby and how lovely it is to be a parent, and the other person struggles to conceive);
- people betraying someone’s trust (for example, they’ve been asked to keep a secret, and they end up telling everybody);
- people constantly blaming others instead of learning to own up to their mistakes;
- people lying about money (this is BIG, because a lot of issues revolve around money - people either lie about a loan they took or how much they earn, and so on);
- people trying to constantly change others or convince them to think like them;
- people criticizing their friends, family members, colleagues, their partners, kids, and so on;
- people putting their friends before their partner or vice versa - people putting their partner before their friends (= failing to balance the connections in your life);
- people failing to prioritize spending time with their loved ones so they slowly start drifting apart;
- people putting their job before their partner so they end up neglecting the relationship altogether, and so on.
Now, it’s worth saying that most of these examples are also related to a lot of other feelings and states of being such as betrayal, dishonesty, unworthiness, regret, guilt, and so on. However, since our focus is on failure and what may cause a relationship to fail, we won’t dwell on those.
Plus, it’s important to understand that no two relationships are the same, so we can’t say that if the same thing happens within two different relationships, then we can expect the same outcome. For instance, if someone bottles up their emotions, this could be a sign for them to try and open up more to others, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all their relationships with people are doomed.
That said, many believe that no relationship is ever a failure. All of them teach us a lot about ourselves, show us how we can grow and mature even further, and practice more vulnerability.
Feedback within interpersonal relationships
Giving feedback to another person within the context of a relationship (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic one, obviously) means voicing your concerns as well as the good stuff about what we experience when we’re in that person’s company.
Feedback is significant because it helps:
- build trust among people;
- show others that we care (and shows us others care for us as well);
- deepen already existing connections, friendships and relationships;
- understand the perspectives of others and not be overly focused only on ourselves;
- shape us into better listeners;
- get in touch with our emotions, thoughts, and simply reflect upon the connection with have with a specific person;
- identify potential issues among people so that they can be resolved promptly, and so on.
Finally, all of this matters because as Sarvesh Jain put it: “You may not like it, but you need to take constant feedback about your behaviour with others. Sometimes we keep hurting everyone around us without having any clue.”
How to approach this?
- What was your first impression when you met your current partner (if you’re single, think about the last relationship you had)? Did that impression change after some time? In what way? Did you openly talk about this with them? Also, what was their first impression of you?
- What makes a relationship successful? What are your criteria for a successful relationship?
- How open are you when it comes to sharing your secrets with friends/family members/partners? Do you have the tendency to keep things to yourself or are you willing to openly discuss them?
- Do you feel the same about your current partner as you did at the beginning of the relationship? If you don’t, is this something you’re able to discuss without a problem?
- What does a failed relationship/marriage mean to you? Does every breakup or every divorce equal a failed partnership? Is it a waste of time? A wrong decision? How can such things be perceived in a more positive manner? For instance, should they be celebrated for what they were while they lasted and there were feelings involved?
- How open should people be with their friends? In essence, if you think your friend is dating a person who’s toxic for them, should you tell them? Or should you “skip telling the truth”?
- When it comes to intimacy, how important is it for people to be open with one another? A lot of couples don’t say how they truly feel because they’re afraid of hurting the other person or because they think they’ll be misunderstood. What’s your approach?
- What matters more - a successful friendship or a successful partnership?
- How should people give feedback in their interpersonal relationships so that it strengthens those relationships? What kind of approach should they adopt?
- How can you tell whether your relationship is moving in the right direction?
- Do you apologize to your friends if you do something wrong? Or do you behave as though nothing happened?
- What happens when others make mistakes? Do you tend to forgive easily? Or does it depend on the mistake?
- Can you apologize to someone although it’s not your fault? Would you do it if that’s what it takes to save that connection?
- Are you willing to compromise your own happiness in order for your relationships to succeed?
- What do you value the most in a friendship? Do you communicate your needs to your friends?
- How does giving feedback (both positive and negative) help build trust between two people?
People fail at life, but they also sometimes feel like life has failed them. Both aspects can be equally devastating. However, what does it mean to fail at life? What does it mean for life to fail you?
In essence, it all depends on what matters to us. For instance, religious people who have placed all their trust in God feel like God may have failed them when something extremely bad happens in their lives (a disease, a loved one dying, a car accident, and so on). They feel like not only God failed them, but sometimes their whole religious practice and teachings have failed them, too. So, they either form new beliefs, or it takes them some time to go back to their old ones.
That said, the opposite applies too. What we mean is that sometimes when people reach rock bottom and hope is nowhere to be found, some of them might turn to God and religion, although they were never believers before that point. So, this new experience is where they find a safe haven. They feel they saved their lives through this new belief and new religious practice.
Please note that this is just an example - we’re not imposing any religious beliefs on anyone :)
Now, other aspects should be considered when it comes to our lifestyles too. For instance, a lot of times people feel disempowered or like they’ve failed at implementing something new in their lives simply because they want instant results. But they forget that habits are tough to break, change doesn’t happen overnight, and some things simply take time.
Also, people often fail to enjoy the process. For instance, let’s say someone wants to lose weight. And so they start going to the gym, eating healthier, playing tennis, hanging out with people who also behave similarly, finding a nutritionist to help them, and so on. They’ve already made quite a few changes to their previous lifestyle, however, they may not know how to enjoy the process.
In other words, they’re still preoccupied with the way they look. They measure their weight every day and criticize themselves for not losing more weight. They’re trying to force their bodies to do things according to their own timelines (which rarely works). And they set extremely high expectations for them. This can make someone feel like a failure.
All the while they should have maybe listened to: their nutritionist’s feedback (for instance, they must have told them that losing weight takes time), their friends’ feedback (they may have told them they’re proud they’re so committed to this), and more importantly, their body’s feedback. Our bodies speak to us, but sometimes we’re so lost in our thoughts that we forget to listen.
Finally, there are many other examples and ways in which the failure and feedback concepts play out in our lives. We invite you to take a look at the following section and by answering the questions, hopefully gain some relevant insight into your own personal struggles and recognize your lifestyle patterns.
How to approach this?
- What’s your biggest failure in life? Why do you refer to this specific “event” in your life as the biggest failure? What did you learn from it? If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? In this failure, is there ANYTHING that went right? What does that show you?
- Do you ever feel things will never get better? If you do, why do you feel like that? Are you doing anything to address the way you feel? Or perhaps you’ve grown used to feeling this way and you’re not even bothered to try to change things for the better?
- Do you have a fear of failure? Is it because of past trauma, bad experiences, fears about what others may say, and so on?
- How do you recover after failure? What helps you?
- What would you attempt to do if you knew you would succeed?
- Do you take smart risks in life? In what way? Think about the last time you took a risk and it paid off.
- Do you think our bodies are constantly giving us feedback about the life we’re leading? For instance, if you tend to drink a lot, party all the time, eat junk food, and go to bed late - what do you think your body is going to “tell” you?
- When someone gives you honest feedback about something (let’s say you’re contemplating buying a new car because you believe the old one doesn’t suit you, but your friend tells you they’ve heard and read bad reviews about that specific car), do you listen to them? Who do you accept advice from? Whose feedback do you cherish the most? Is it a family member, a friend, your partner, perhaps a colleague?
- What’s the biggest lifestyle change you’ve ever made in your life? What inspired you to do it? Were you afraid of it initially? What were your fears? Have other people’s opinions influenced your decision? If yes, in what way?
- Do you perceive people who only wish to enjoy life as failures? Why? Why not?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest, and 10 the highest) how stressful is your current lifestyle? If it’s more than 6 - what makes it so stressful? What habits and routines do you have that contribute to it? How can you slowly start changing that?
- Which of the following do you fear the most to fail at:
- being a parent?
- financial stability?
- moving to another country?
- buying a home?
- learning a new language?
- making new friends?
- standing up for yourself?
- adjusting to new technologies?
Famous Quotes About Feedback and Failure
“Feedback is essential to growth. Be aware of the difference between genuine and faulty characters. It’s hard to tell who is conforming to others' opinions and who is speaking out of intellect and honesty to bring awareness to the people surrounding them. I have always fought to be the latter. The former has always made me withdraw from society.”
“Feedback is only valuable if the person giving it knows what they are talking about; feedback from an idiot is white noise that will damage you and from which you will learn nothing.”
“Your past, including your failures, simply offers feedback that makes you wiser and stronger than before.”
“It takes only a split second for life to go horribly wrong. To fix the mess, I need a thousand things to go right. The distance from one bit of luck to the next feels as great as the distance across oceans. But, I decide in this moment, I will bridge that distance, again and again, until I win. I will not fail.”
“I only accept and pay attention to feedback from people who are also in the arena. If you're occasionally getting your butt kicked as you respond, and if you're also figuring out how to stay open to feedback without getting pummeled by insults, I'm more likely to pay attention to your thought about my work. If, on the other hand, you're not helping, contributing, or wrestling with your own gremlins, I'm not at all interested in your commentary.”
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
“Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.”
“Failure is constructive feedback that tells you to try a different approach to accomplish what you want.”
“Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so 'safe,' and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are some different types of feedback in the classroom?
This type of feedback usually occurs spontaneously and it may happen frequently or rarely. It happens in the spur of the moment and during a lesson. This is why having a solid educator-educatee relationship is so important. It helps both parties feel comfortable to communicate with one another and state their views without pressure.
Apart from this feedback taking place in the classroom, it may happen over the phone or in a virtual classroom (that is, some online learning platform).
Formal feedback is typically pre-planned and systematically delivered. What this means is that the educator usually analyzes the educatee’s performance, tests, and overall achievements and then delivers their feedback. This usually stays “as evidence”, meaning it may be part of an educatee’s file or the parents have access to it, and so on. Also, depending on the type of feedback, there could be some marking criteria used to grade the educatee’s achievements.
The purpose behind this type of feedback is to monitor the student’s learning process in order to provide ongoing feedback. This helps both educatees and educators - it helps educatees by improving their learning habits, wheres for educators, it’s about improving their teaching practice.
This is why such feedback is usually given early on (for instance early on in the course, or at the beginning of the academic year, and so on), so that everybody can make use of it in order to do their best in what follows (which are usually the summative assessments).
The function of summative feedback is to evaluate the student’s learning process at the end of a specific unit, semester, course, topic, and so on. This is usually done by keeping some benchmark in mind. Hence, this type of feedback tests how much the student has learned so far, and oftentimes this feedback is linked with getting a grade.
That’s why common examples of this type of feedback are research reports, final projects and papers, exams, and so on.
How to stop feeling like a failure?
If you find yourself thinking that you’re a failure, and you’re a hopeless case, and things will never get better, then this section is for you.
Because you’re not YOUR failure, meaning your failure doesn't define you; no one is a hopeless case - people just need to find out what works for them and what helps them, and things can and will get better.
But how, you might wonder?
A lot of people who go through life feeling like failures or feeling extremely down for long periods of time can’t seem to imagine feeling otherwise. They feel like there’s no other option - it simply is what it is.
However, that couldn't be further from the truth. And we hope to show you why so that you can start coming out from the hole you’ve been hiding in.
The first step is understanding the reason behind your feelings. Here are some possible causes:
- bad parents and a miserable childhood;
- lack of people who support you in life;
- low self-esteem and self-confidence;
- unrealistic expectations;
- constantly comparing yourself with others;
- negative thoughts;
- dealing with trauma or PTSD;
- feeling hopeless.
Acknowledge your emotions
When you feel like a failure and like all your ships have sailed, it’s important not to act like everything is fine. In other words, it’s important to embrace your emotions for what they currently are. No matter how negative and low you may be feeling, the first step is to be honest with yourself that that’s how you feel.
A lot of people feel guilty for having such negative emotions which ends up making things worse for them. Not only do they already feel like a failure, but now they're overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame, too.
Trace their origins
After embracing your emotions, it’s important to trace their origins. Why are they here? What or who made you feel unworthy and hopeless about yourself?
Was it yourself with your unrealistic expectations? Perhaps your parents forced you to be the best at everything since you were a kid? Maybe you have a lot of negative chatter going on in your mind (for instance, you tend to criticize your actions and decisions a lot and you always think you should have made a different decision because everything you do is somehow wrong, and so on).
A lot of people have some irrational fears and beliefs regarding failure. You might have developed some of them in childhood or perhaps even later on in life depending on the type of experiences you had. For example, you might think that failing at something makes you an overall failure, and that means you’re not meant to succeed. Or maybe you think others won’t like or respect you if you fail (at your job, your marriage, and so on).
Such beliefs are highly inaccurate and are only stopping you from living your best life. The way to go about it is to set healthy beliefs and more realistic, grounded expectations about what you can do. This is not to say you shouldn't dream big or set high goals for yourself. It simply means not to criticize yourself when your expectations aren’t instantly met. Start small, but don’t lose sight of where you wish to be.
Grow aware of your coping mechanisms and get rid of the bad ones
A lot of people experiencing an episode of failure might find themselves developing a coping mechanism in order to not really feel the pain. So, many distract themselves with food, drugs, alcohol, sex, sleeping, eating junk food, shopping, binge-watching Netflix - in other words, trying to avoid their current reality altogether.
And while some are obviously unhealthy (such as drugs, alcohol, and even sex when it developes into a behavior that gets out of control), others come across as more innocent (such as binge-watching Netflix or eating junk food). That said, they’re also “dangerous” because they still serve as a means of escaping reality. It’s simply putting a bandaid on deeper wounds.
The way to approach this is to slowly start changing your unhealthy coping mechanism with healthy coping strategies. You can try:
- talking to a close friend (or even try therapy or counseling);
- practice deep breathing and journaling about your feelings and/or experiences;
- go for a walk whenever you feel stressed out (it will help you feel more grounded);
- play with animals (you may even consider getting a pet);
- take a bubble bath - we don’t even need to explain why this is so enjoyable :);
- try gardening, cooking, meditating, running, swimming, cleaning, yoga (any type of activity that will give you a sense of purpose and help you structure your day).
That said, it’s important to realize that not all coping strategies work for everyone, so it’s important to find which one(s) work for you. Of course, it may take you some time to find what it is that you enjoy doing, so don’t be afraid to experiment and explore.
Finally, the suggestions we give are just that - suggestions, and there are many other options out there, so feel free to come up with your own activities and healthy coping strategies.
Find the lessons
Whenever you struggle in your life, it helps to look for the learning lessons. In other words, ask yourself what this current experience is showing you about yourself. For instance, if you feel disappointed, hopeless, and unworthy, but you have friends who are willing to help you, and they’re letting you know all about the good stuff they see in you, then you can conclude you’ve chosen good friends, which is a success in itself.
Or, if you tried to execute a business plan, but it all failed, and now you feel like a failure, try to step back and look at the whole situation from a broader perspective. Ask yourself: Why did this happen? Where did I go wrong? What changes do I need to make so that I succeed next time?
Instead of seeing your failures and mistakes as hardships and obstacles, look at them as valuable stepping stones that help you move towards your dreams.
Come up with a plan
Now that you’ve gone through all the previous steps, it’s time to move forward. In other words, it’s time to get “unstuck”. Repeating your mistakes or focusing on the things that aren’t working in your life isn’t going to help. In fact, it will make you feel more stuck and less happy.
That said, coming up with a plan that works isn’t a walk in the park. For many who have grown used to feeling like a failure or being convinced nothing will ever work out in their lives, devising a plan for success means getting out of their comfort zones. Plus, it’s not just about crafting a plan. It’s about acting on it every day, even when you’re not sure it’ll work. This is because sometimes, habits don’t come from within, but rather, practicing them externally changes our attitude and inner tendencies. For instance, if you’re not a disciplined person but you make yourself jog every morning, you’ll develop inner discipline just by practicing that one habit.
It’s important to stay motivated, though. First of all, tell yourself “I’m ready to try again”, and “I’m good enough to succeed” instead of rehashing the same old “I’m useless” and/or “I’m a failure”.
Next, look at all the areas of your life that aren’t working. Is it your career? Your current love life? Perhaps you struggle to get along with some family members?
Imagine your future and see how “far” you are from your ideal scenario. Plan the steps to get there. For instance, if you want to start your own business, start small, like by deciding what sort of a business you’d like to run. Next, think about who else can help you. Would you need employees or will it be just you at the beginning? Do you need partners?
Finally, get ready to be faced with some road blocks, but keep reminding yourself that this doesn’t equal failure. It never did. As we said, these are the stepping stones that show up on your pathway, and knowing how to embrace them makes the path smoother for you, at least psychologically.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Reading about feedback and failure is neither going to make your life perfect nor is it going to prevent you from experiencing failure and/or any negative feedback in your life. However, it’s going to help you learn how to cope with it better (in a healthy manner) and understand why moments of failure are a normal part of our lives.
In other words, reading and seeing what others have to say about it will show you you’re not alone in those experiences.
So, below we have suggestions on books about failure and feedback. Enjoy them, and don’t be afraid to expand the lists with your own favorites!
Books about feedback:
- Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
- Thank God for the Feedback: Using Feedback to Fuel Your Personal, Professional and Spiritual Growth, by Sheila Heen and Elaine Lin
- Fearless Feedback: A Guide for Coaching Leaders to See Themselves More Clearly and Galvanize Growth, by Kelly Ross, Amy Kosterlitz, Penny Handscomb, Rebecca Glenn
- Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
- The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team's Success, by Anna Carroll
- Feedback Toolkit: 16 Tools for Better Communication in the Workplace, by Rick Maurer
- Giving And Receiving Feedback: Building Constructive Communication, by Patti Hathaway
- Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process: a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert, by John Borstel and Liz Lerman
- The Impact of Feedback in Higher Education: Improving Assessment Outcomes for Learners, by Michael Henderson, Rola Ajjawi, David Boud, and Elizabeth Molloy
- Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It, by by Laura Dowling Grealish and M. Tamra Chandler
Books about failure:
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams
- Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Tim Harford
- From Failure to Success: Everyday Habits and Exercises to Build Mental Resilience and Turn Failures Into Successes, by Martin Meadows
- How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong, by Elizabeth Day
- Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, by J. K. Rowling
- The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey
- Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It, by Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik
- Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong, by Elizabeth Day
- How Do We Know We're Doing It Right: & Other Essays on Modern Life, by Pandora Sykes
- How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong, by Elizabeth Day
How do we sum up failure and feedback together? How do we conclude their interconnectedness?
Sharon Weil said that “everything in my environment is offering me feedback, if I will only listen.” So, even our failures offer us feedback too.
In other words, both feedback and failure are important aspects of our lives since they affect all areas of it. How much and in what ways they affect them differs from person to person, as all of us have different experiences, and hence, different, personal struggles in life.
That said, we have different successes, too - or rather - different ways to measure success. In any case, if you wish to learn more about feedback and failure as concepts, take part in our online course. We cover:
- the different types of failure;
- misconceptions about failure and the psychology of failure;
- your relationship with failure;
- how to give feedback and how to create feedback loops;
- how to validate your progress, and so on.
And if you decide to join us - we’d appreciate your feedback!
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