At the Y we are in the season of asking for feedback. We just finished a membership survey and held two public forums to ask for ideas for future uses of the decommissioned pools, corresponding locker rooms and other spaces in our original facility. It was wonderful to see how many people participated in both of these activities. I have so much gratitude for those who are willing to stop and take the time to give ideas and review our services.

Going through this process I have learned so much about the ups and downs of asking for feedback. It has also spurred me to think about how feedback has evolved in today’s online platforms.

Asking for feedback has always been a double-edge sword. It offers new ideas, fresh perspective and necessary criticism for growth. Without regular feedback we operate with our blinders on, unknowingly not reaching our potential. However, asking for feedback can also be like opening Pandora’s Box because it is an invitation for the seemingly harsh and critical comments. Feedback can be especially critical or personal when it is given anonymously.

There also a few things you have to remind yourself of when processing feedback: 1) An individual is more likely to give feedback if they are angry or unsatisfied. If you are happy with your experience you usually don’t take the energy to share the positives. I know I am more eager to respond to a customer service survey at a hotel or restaurant if the experience was frustrating. 2) For each response in one direction, there is another one encouraging the opposite idea or direction. The Y is large enough in its services and user demographics that we are bound to make organizational decisions that will please some and upset others. 3) Avoid disregarding negative feedback but rather filter it through your mission and what small and large actions you are capable of taking to rectify the sentiment.

The Y is well positioned to receive both positive and negative feedback and perform a healthy process of sorting it out and finding common themes to improve upon. This project also has me thinking about feedback beyond the Y lens; specifically how individuals receive and internalize feedback. In the past, celebrities would receive feedback from fans in letter form but today they can receive a multitude more opinions in mere moments on the internet. While disheartening, celebrities are in many ways their own company and recognize that negative feedback is part of their business.

This same cutting, fast and furious, form of feedback is just as prevalent among our youth. Young adults receive comments on their physical appearance, their academic potential and the status of their home life from anonymous sources that are quick to harass behind the secrecy of their keyboard. Unlike a company or celebrity, youth often interpret and internalize this feedback privately. Bullying is no longer just a physical threat but through online interactions has transformed into psychological warfare. There is less accountability from adults when youth harass peers on the internet versus in person. Internet and social platforms promote the ‘pack of dogs’ ability to pile on negative feedback and amplify the effect. Young people are especially susceptible to this ‘everyone hates me’ perception and this undoubtedly adds to the growing sense of anxiety and depression among today’s youth.

At the end of April, the Y closed its online survey and now we will begin to process the data gathered. However for a young person there is no simple conclusion to receiving the opinions of others. You can limit a youth’s social media presence but unfortunately the feedback can continue unsolicited and widely shared.

Unfortunately today’s youth are going to have to learn resiliency at a level never before required. Helping our young people develop this resiliency in the face of negative feedback is the armor they need to be strong resilient adults who can manage the vulnerability that public/social forums give when it comes to negative feedback. As a community we need to work to eliminate the anonymity of internet platforms and hold individuals accountable for their actions on the internet at the same level as face-to-face forms of bullying and harassment. Sticks and stones may break bones but hateful words can crush a spirit.

Feedback in today’s world is different and powerful and certainly worth recognizing and addressing.

 

Sandy Sare is program director with the Sheridan County YMCA.