Info You Can Use: Negative Feedback As GPS Data

In my last entry, I cited the pitfalls of providing too great a forum for feedback and expectations about how that input will be addressed. I think we all recognize though that as arts organizations, we need to solicit feedback in order to better serve our communities.

How you receive the feedback is just as important as how you ask for it. It is easy to dismiss feedback we don’t like or be paralyzed/depressed by taking it too much to heart. FastCompany recently had an article addressing how to take negative feedback on an individual level, but the advice can scale up to the organizational level.

The article talks about using negative feedback to make yourself more successful. I was interested to learn that openness to feedback is actually a significant factor in an employee’s success.

“A recent study found that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months. Of those that fail, 26% do so because they can’t accept feedback,…


“People who are at the bottom 10% in terms of their willingness to ask for feedback–their leadership effectiveness scores were at the 17th percentile,” says Joseph Folkman, president of Zenger Folkman… “But the people who were at the top 10%, who were absolutely willing to ask for feedback, their leadership effectiveness scores were at the 83rd percentile.”

One of the problems a lot of people face with negative feedback is that they see it as an indictment of them as a person rather than, say an indication of their poor typing skills. I don’t know for sure if it is any worse in the arts sector than any other sector, but I imagine given that those involved in the arts tend to derive so much emotional satisfaction from their work, negative criticism may be more apt to be taken personally.

Article author Denis Wilson suggests just treating the feedback as a single piece of data among many to guide your personal development rather than orienting specifically on it. He cites an apt analogy made by Joseph Folkman that a GPS device needs 3-4 sources of information to accurately track your progress. For the same reason, Folkman also cautions against relying entirely on your own perceptions.

The article goes on to suggest a number of ways to handle the feedback, again by mostly focusing on the facts of the situation rather than emotions involved. A patron may complain angrily and indicate that they have lost faith in you due to problems with their experience. Your focus should be on solutions to those problems rather than fixating on and reacting to the anger.

Of course, it it often no small feat to remain centered on the facts of a situation when on the receiving end of emotionally delivered criticism. Remember that being able to do so contributes to your personal growth.

There is nothing to say the person delivering the criticism will be satisfied with your composed reaction and apology. Just reading the comments to the article, it is clear some people have an expectation that those on the receiving end of the criticism will be contrite and cowed.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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