Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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I have written a lot on the topic of feedback; however, the contents are distributed over a number of hand-written pieces. There may be quite some time before I have everything assembled in a reasonable manner. Still, the following pieces, originally just thrown in as addenda, stand alone in a reasonable manner.


Providing even a little bit of positive feedback (“throw a bone”) can be of immense value—in particular, when critiquing something of low quality. I would even venture the paradoxical opinion that the less positive there is to say, the more important it is to say something positive.

In the irrational minds of many people, that one little kind word can be the light at the end of the tunnel, the little nudge that prevents an “X is an ass-hole out to get me.” interpretation of events—thus dealing with the two main problems on the recipient side: Bad feelings about oneself, respectively the counter-part. (Obviously, this will depend very much on the recipient.)

A negative side-effect can be that people who hear what they want to hear can become oblivious to the critique, if too much positive is said.


A particular danger is that too large a knowledge difference can put a certain feedback item, point of argumentation, or similar, beyond the horizon of the counter-part (this would explain a lot of my problems at [E4] and [E5]). Example: Consider a child trying to find out the number of cookies in a 5x5 arrangement. (This was a typical example in my first year of schooling.)

o o o o o

o o o o o

o o o o o

o o o o o

o o o o o

A sufficiently naive child will manually count “one, two, three, ...”. An adult who says “Stop that, silly. It is just 5 x 5 = 25.”, is not likely to be understood at all. The needed concepts, experiences, and skills are beyond the horizon of the child—no matter how trivial they may seem to the adult. On the other hand, an explanation “Now you have counted the cookies of the first row; there where five. If you look carefully, you see that all rows have the same number. Now, you can just add five four more times: 5+5=10, 10+5=15, 15+5=20, 20+5=25” may still work. (I am not sure that the child would be up to par with the arithmetic of the additions; however, for the sake of an understandable example, this can be glossed over.)

The child may still just nod and agree to the first explanation—after all, an adult said it—, but will not benefit from it. Adults are different: They will not only not benefit, they will likely consider the explanation incorrect (“I have been doing this for five years; if I don’t know it, then it is wrong!”)

An exception can occur for authorities. Here the “child” reaction can apply to adults too: “I do not understand it; but the professor said it, so it must be true.” However, just like with the child, there will be no true benefit. Worse yet, many alleged authorities are overrated—in particular, when the authority comes by hierarchy. This can cause unqualified nonsense to be believed (another problem that was common at [E4]).


  1. Beware of hard-to-understand (or non-existing) argumentation from authorities in general, and superiors in particular.

  2. Try to identify the intelligence and knowledge level of the counter-part, and “dumb down” sufficiently.

Notably, [vpProdMan] never listened to my argumentation; however, I once saw the CTO seriously shift her by (from my POV) talking as if she were a child, with exaggerated explanations, and lengthy formulations. (Of course, he also had the benefit of authority.) In fact, I start to suspect that I have tended to simply state the what is and what follows, and incorrectly assumed that the trivial logic will be understood. Example: All humans are mortal, all philosophers are human, Socrates is a philosopher; ergo, Socrates is mortal. (To paraphrase a classic example; and overlook details like Socrates already being dead.) Extending the explanation may be needed: “OK. You know who Socrates was? Right. You agree that he was a philosopher? Good. Do you agree that if Socrates was a philosopher, which you already agreed; then he was also human? Good. Now, all humans are mortals right? And Socrates is a human? Do you then agree that Socrates was mortal? Wonderful!”

Yes, going by my experiences so far, in particular at [E4], I really believe that many people are that stupid. Whether they form a majority or a minority is so far unclear to me; however, certainly, many people would find the above too condescending and elementary.

A particular warning should be raised where women are concerned: It appears to me that women are much more likely to be problem cases than men—even when comparing men and women in similar positions and with similar qualifications. Someone going from a mostly male to a mostly female environment should be very careful not to fall into this trap.

Remark: The example above is slightly problematic in that a set of premises lead to consecutive conclusions according to formal logic (even if relayed informally); many people will just draw on real-life knowledge to jump directly to the conclusion. This would ruin the demonstration in practice, but can safely be ignored in a thought example.