How to handle too much feedback

We're bombarded with feedback. Try running yours through Ann Friedman's Disapproval Matrix. It will help.

We're bombarded with feedback. Try running yours through Ann Friedman's Disapproval Matrix. It will help. Photo: Stocksy

We live in a world of endless feedback.

It comes by email and text and social media, through performance reviews at work or from the offhand comment of a co-worker we barely know. Much of the feedback is noise, and it's easy to brush off. "Oh, I don't listen to the haters. I just care about what the people important to me think."

Yet we find ourselves getting in arguments on Facebook with people who are unimportant to us. Or we let an unsolicited critique during a work meeting get under our skin, stewing over it for an hour before remembering that the source is both unreliable and inconsequential to our career.

What we need is a filter, a mental sieve that will hold back the dumb or counterproductive feedback and allow only valuable information to flow through.

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I recently came across a splendidly simple idea that does just that, a 2-by-2 matrix created by a California-based freelance writer named Ann Friedman. She calls her creation 'The Disapproval Matrix'. She came up with it a couple years ago as she was preparing to speak to women graphic designers in Chicago about how she deals with online criticism.

"I've been writing things for the Internet under some banner of feminism for more than 10 years," she said. "That means I'm a criticism veteran."

The matrix is broken up like this:

Top left: "Lovers!"

Top right: "Critics"

Bottom left: "Frenemies"

And bottom right: "HATERS."

The horizontal axis moves from "Know you" on the left to "Don't know you" on the right. The vertical axis moves from "Irrational" at the bottom to "Rational" at the top.

According to Friedman's blog, lovers are people who care about you and give rational feedback because they want you to improve; critics are smart people who know what they're talking about and are offering thoughtful comments; frenemies are people who know you and your work and want to undermine you (this category can also include your own irrational self-doubt); and haters are "your garden-variety, often anonymous troll who wants to tear down everything about you for no rational reason."

Using The Disapproval Matrix is simple. Per Friedman's blog post: "When you receive negative feedback that falls into one of the top two quadrants - from experts or people who care about you who are engaging with and rationally critiquing your work - you should probably take their comments to heart. When you receive negative feedback that falls into the bottom two quadrants, you should just let it roll off your back and just keep doin' you."

There's an elegant practicality to Friedman's tool. You can look at it and say, "Well, yeah, of course that's how you should think about feedback." But most of us don't take the moment or two necessary to run our feedback through a system.

Having The Disapproval Matrix in our head can save us from plunging down many a mental rabbit hole.

"Some quadrants are automatic," Friedman said. "I get an email from someone who I've worked with a lot, from a personal friend, from someone whose opinion I really respect, and they say, 'I think you were really wrong about this.' Those are things that are easy to know to pay attention to.

"Where it gets tougher is when it's someone who's known to you, say a boss or a co-worker who isn't directly invested in your personal success but has some opinions on it. It's a lot harder to figure out how to engage with those people.

"I don't think it works to tell people to just block anyone who's critical of you. And trying to engage with everyone isn't right either."

But what if you filter off the dumb feedback and find yourself with nothing left? Unfortunately, that's what many people deal with in the workplace.

"How many people really get good feedback from their bosses?" Friedman said. "Bosses don't give good feedback. Even in a place that has an evaluation structure, people are starved for actually useful feedback in their professional lives."

She's absolutely right. Most annual reviews are borderline worthless. Too many managers think of feedback as either an occasional "way to go" or a "you really screwed that up, try harder next time."

So consider implanting The Disapproval Matrix in your head. A better mental filter can only help.

- Chicago Tribune