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Psychology of feedback

Our highly competitive world requires good and service companies, organisations and employees to improve constantly to stay on the top of their game. Giving feedback, which is information provided regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding, is part of this “room for improvement” business.

Employees undergo appraisals periodically. Clients and customers have access to online reviews. During a birthday dinner party last June 15, I sat next to a lady who advised me to get into our city government’s website and expose my displeasure with their inaction regarding the pigeons’ invasion of my neighborhood that has caused financial and health anguish. 

Since we are all either employees, employers, consumers, clients, or mere citizens, we do give or/and receive feedback regularly. As well, we get and give remarks, comments and advice from our family and friends, which are actually receiving and providing feedback.

Feedback, if not positive, should only be constructive criticism. Positive feedback can be manifested in many ways. Above is a photo of flowers given to me by a language school where I have been working for 10 years. I consider this as a positive feedback – a show of appreciation and encouragement to continue performing well.

My students fill in mid and end-of-course evaluation forms, which can be awkward doing it in my presence, particularly in a diverse environment where cultures and personalities come into play. Nevertheless, I insist on going through this as I am adamant that giving and receiving feedback helps me aid them achieve their goals and maximise their potential.

I value my students’ feedback as when done in an objective and fair manner and with the right intentions, it improves my performance.  I have to know what I am doing well and not so effective. However, with voluntary feedback, you get the extremes – those who quite like you and think you’re so marvelous and those who are naturally critical and cynical. Those in between often don’t bother doing it. I had been told by a friend that there’s this teacher whose entire lesson involved watching films that his students hardly understood, but he always got positive feedback because his “favourites” (term they used to describe his friend-students) followed him in his courses and gave him comments that were the opposite of reality. Whereas, his colleague who’s a valued teacher received a lower score.  Thus, should we take feedback seriously?

Emotions, such as anger, envy, fear, friendship, indignation, happiness and sadness affect individuals’ perceptions, judgments and behaviours.  As such, their feedback – whether positive or negative – is  also about them. Online surveys have anonymity but do not guarantee honest responses. Should feedback be done face-to-face to have an opportunity for both parties to air their views? This is time consuming and has limitations due to power imbalance, as in employer-employee and teacher-student relationship. As well, even face-to-face or focus group feedback is not free from biases, which can be cognitive, confirmation or attribution.

According to Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bias seen 21/06/19), cognitive biases are repeated patterns of thinking that lead to inaccurate or unreasonable conclusions; confirmation biases refer to the brain’s tendency to search for and focus on information that supports what someone already believes while ignoring facts that go against those beliefs, despite their relevance; and attribution biases occurs when the person tries to attribute reasons or motivations to the actions of others without concrete evidence to support such assumptions. These biases help feedback givers make decisions and comments, which may not always be accurate. Therefore, when giving and receiving feedback, it’s important to be aware of these biases, particularly cognitive ones, and try to redress these. If you are the receiver of an unfair feedback, be open-minded and do not let this experience (which sometimes can be attributed to the critic’s bias or inadequacy to give feedback) damage your confidence and self-esteem.

Eurovision? Why not “Europe and friends’ musical extravaganza”?

During the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel on 14 May 2019, one of my students asked me what I thought of Australia being in it. When I was still living in Brisbane, I always looked forward to watching it as I found all participants talented; many were creative, and some were outlandish. Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), whose mission is “to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society”, covers this event every year. After I had said to my student that it should not be in it based on geography, I did some research.

Participation in the Eurovision contest is, firstly, open to those who belong to the 56 member- countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and its 21 associate member-nations. Therefore, participation is not by geography, which makes the title of the event “Eurovision” misleading and susceptible to innuendo. In 2019, 42 countries travelled to Israel and 36 of them performed in the semi-finals to qualify for the finals. Every year, the so-called “Big Five” – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom – are prequalified to take part in the finals.

Australia has been in the Eurovision Song Contest five times since its debut in 2015 in Vienna, which was to be a one-off event; however, its participation has been confirmed until 2023 by the EBU.  Its best result in the contest is a second-place for Dami Im in 2016. It finished in the top ten in three of its other appearances: Guy Sebastian finishing fifth in 2015, and both Isaiah Firebrace and Kate Miller-Heidke finishing ninth in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Most points it received in the finals were from Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) and Hungary. Australia always got better scores from the jury than TV spectators. Do you think that a country down under can win the votes of political and sentimental Europe? As well, it has been announced publicly that if it won, it wouldn’t host the contest but Germany or the UK. Hence, the question whether Australia should be in the Eurovision is not for me to answer (though Australian by citizenship) but by the Australian Government and taxpayers. (It should be noted that Australian-born individuals have been involved in Eurovision since its inception as song writers and musicians for other countries, particularly the UK).

Israel (since 1973), Cyprus (since 1981) and Armenia (since 2006) have competed in the Eurovision even though they are outside the geographical boundaries of Europe. My French student of Muslim faith told us two weeks ago that she had watched some Eurovision events where middle-eastern countries blocked out or put a flower vase on their TV screens during an Israeli performance. She added, “Israel has to be in the Eurovision as it can’t have a friendly competition with its neighbours”.

According to Latto, A. et al (https://www.theguardian.com /notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1900,00.html), the EBU membership is primarily to organisations in the area defined by the International Telecommunications Union, which extends from the Atlantic to the meridian 40-degree east and bounded on the south by the 30th parallel. Jerusalem, the official headquarters of Israeli Television, is 35-degree east and on the 32nd parallel. “This definition also allows for participation by Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, the Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia”. Except for a one-time participation by Morocco in 1980, the other countries have not participated on principle.

Is it possible to change the name of this annual musical extravaganza? How about calling it —Vision for Cooperation and Peace through Music; Europe and Friends’ Musical Contest; Incluvision Musical Contest; Selective Diversity Musical Contest; or EBUvision Contest?

Please add your ideas on the above list. Have fun doing it …

Earthquake – never thought it’d happen to me

I took a 21-hour flight to be at the reunion of my maternal family (Carañgan) in La Castellaña, Philippines. Whilst on stopover in Manila on 22 April 2019 at 5PM, there was an intensity 5 earthquake.  I was in a parlor when suddenly the ground trembled and furniture started to shake, then the power went out.  The six people in that beauty saloon, which is on the ground floor of a 22-level building, stayed where they were whilst I rushed to the door barefoot and run to the nearby one-level-structure. I was the first person to get out and one of the last to get back as I was worried about aftershocks.

After the earthquake, there was fire two blocks away from where we were. I took this photo from our window.

Aftershocks are tremors that follow the main earthquake. They happen more frequently in the hours and days after an earthquake, but their magnitude and frequency decrease over time.  Even though their shaking intensity is relatively small compared with that of the main earthquake, they can destabilise buildings and injure people.

My sister, who flew from Australia to join our family reunion, was out shopping at that time when she realised there was an earthquake and walked back immediately. Several people advised her to stay where she was but refused telling them that she had to go back as her sister (that’s me) was still inside the building. Before she reached the parlor, she found me barefoot on the sidewalk beside a single-level elementary school. There was only a dozen of us in front of the elementary school, however, more than a hundred people were in front of the condominium as if waiting for the structure to collapse on them.  I couldn’t believe that after a stressful exit they would just stay right in front of the building. In times of panic, the brain switches on what it is used to. In that condominium the stairways are in front of the elevators and where the garbage bins are kept, which residents see or use regularly; whereas, the emergency exit is located at the other end of the building and is unknown to some residents and visitors, like me.   I could have been in a worse situation, e.g. having a shower or being in the elevator without a mobile phone or a torch.

According to Australia’s Victoria State Emergency Service (https://www.ses.vic.gov.au/), if you are indoors during an earthquake, you should do the following:

“Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you. Many inside doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.

Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

Do not use the elevator. Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.”

If you are outdoors during an earthquake, do the following:

“Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

If you are in a moving vehicle during an earthquake, stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If you are trapped under debris during or after an earthquake: Do not light a match. Do not move around or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.”

As you have noticed, I didn’t act safely as I failed to stay inside until the shaking stopped.  Likewise, due to her love and care for me, my sister disregarded the basic safety and survival step by deciding to go back inside the building during the earthquake. I hope you won’t experience this incredibly life threatening situation; but if you do, follow the advice of the Victoria State Emergency Service and not what I did.

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”. – John F. Kennedy (35th US President)

Our current society is competitive, demanding and complex that conflict has become a part of modern day living. There are squabbles or disagreements among colleagues, neighbours, friends, family members, and even strangers. The common causes of office disaccord are work style differences, personality clashes, and sense of unfairness. Many complaints made to the Police concern noises, fences, trees, rubbish and stray pets that turn neighbours into foes. 

According to www.unifiedlawyers.com, the world’s divorce rate has increased by 251.8% since 1960. Nowadays, nearly half of marriages end up in divorce with Luxembourg topping the list (87%) followed by Spain (65%), France (55%), Russia (51%) and the USA (46%).  India (1%) and Chile (3%) have the lowest rates. The most common reason given for divorce is incompatibility, which is nearly thrice that of infidelity. When marriage breaks down, in the majority of cases, those concerned knock non-hesitantly on lawyers’ doors and rush to tribunals or courts.

The legal system is long and costly, whereas mediation and arbitration involve much less time and money; but why do many people opt for the former? Why don’t they resolve conflict by mediation and negotiation?

In mediation, a neutral person helps disputants to come to a consensus on their own. Mediators allow conflicting parties to vent their feelings and expose their grievances, but they don’t impose their solution. It’s the conflicting parties that decide on the outcome of the negotiation. The mediators can help them come up with a resolution that is sustainable and nonbinding. 

In arbitration, the third party serves as a judge and is responsible for resolving the dispute. This man or woman listens thoroughly and non-judgementally to each side as they argue their cases and present relevant evidence before rendering a binding decision that is usually confidential and cannot be appealed. Then, they prepare and submit a report to the Court.

In mediation and arbitration, the conflict is resolved when the process in completed, i.e. the settlement is agreed and conflict is resolved. Contrary to what some people think, most mediations are confidential.

During mediation the underlying causes of the conflict is examined, and the solutions that best suit needs and interests of both parties are sought. This is done in a flexible manner without strict rules of procedure to make everyone participative in order to attain a win-win solution. As such, it helps end the conflict or problem; not the relationship. It can deal with multiple parties and a variety of issues at one time; for example, a family conflict involving inheritance of children and their relatives.

According to UK’s Citizen Advice (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/how-to-separate/mediation-to-help-you-separate, participants in mediation report higher satisfaction rates than people who go to court. As well, due to their active involvement, «they have a higher commitment to upholding the settlement than people who have a judge decide for them. Mediations end in agreement 70 to 80% of the time and have high rates of compliance”.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. Avoiding conflict is the best principle. However, since we can’t agree with everyone on everything, we should adjust our behaviours to ensure that we are in a peaceful relationship with others and accept responsibility for our actions. If we are respectful of others, mind our manners and apply the golden rule (i.e. treat others how you want to be treated), there’ll be no need for mediation, or expensive and long legal process. As the saying goes, “reconciliation is better than justice”.

The ABC of a lasting relationship


You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
— Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341–270 BC)

While in a jovial mood at last month’s carnival party, I agreed to my Polish friend’s invitation to dinner in a French restaurant five minutes on foot from my residence.

After some minutes of tiptoeing on the snow, my husband and I were ushered to a table in the middle of a room directly in front of a flat stage with standing microphone and sound system. All tables had only two chairs, and we were discouraged from mingling with other couples, including my Polish friends.

On the table was a beautifully cut-out paper in a shape of a turbine with a dozen questions, such as “What’s the best moment you had with your partner recently” and “What do you like most in your partner these days?”

During the appetiser, our conversation focused on the unusualness of the evening. There was a short show about relationships, which was really an introduction to the instructions and information on what’s going to happen next. We were given a piece of paper sealed by a small heart with topics for discussions, which ranged from needs to values. My husband and I started with honesty; then, we branched out into children and movies, which we weren’t supposed to do. It was meant to be a “tête-à-tête ». Thirty minutes later, they distributed to every couple a folded A4 paper that had 2 different pictures to be described to each other.

The main event of the evening was the discussion of what the organisers entitled the “L’ABECEDAIRE de la Communication du couple qui dure» (The ABC of a couple/relationship that lasts): attentes, besoin, comprehension, differences, ecouter, ferme, gentillesse, honnetete, intentions, jugements, klaxon, lien, moment, negocier, opportunity, pensees, questions, rire, silence, temoigner, utile, valuer, winchester, X, yeux, and zenith.

When translated into English, the above doesn’t follow the ABC flow; however, the message stays remain and true:

« Attentes » – expectations. Tell your partner your expectations rather than waiting for him/her to guess these.

Besoin – need. Ask questions about your partner’s needs.

Comprehension – understanding. Understand your partner and ensure that she/he knows that you understand him/her or what s/he goes through.

Differences – differences. Face the issues of differences in your relationship with empathy rather than find faults.

Ecouter – listen. Listen and not just hear his/her views and do this with patience and empathy.

Ferme – firm. Be firm yet respectful about the issues that are important to you.

Gentillesse – kindness. Whatever your disagreement, don’t be angry and defensive but appreciate your differences.

Honnetete – honesty. Be honest when you talk about your desires and feelings rather than accusing the other of ill communication.

Intentions – intentions. Don’t entertain negative intentions. Always ask if you’ve understood it well rather than assume the intentions of your partner.

Jugements – judgements. Accept that the other person sees things differently from you to avoid judging his/her opinions, needs and sentiments.

Klaxon ‘Tu, Tu, Tu’- horn (You, You, You). Avoid this sentence structure: You’ve to…, You need to…YOU…

Lien – bond. Maintain a strong bond by always telling your partner that s/he is important to you and your relationship even in the midst of quarrels.

Moment – moment.Prefer to talk about your feelings and thoughts of the present than the past and the future.

Negocier – negotiate. Negotiate that leads to a win-win situation, i.e. it incorporates both needs, which might mean compromising.

Opportunite – opportunity. Relationships are full of ups and downs. Choose an appropriate moment to talk about problems, i.e. when none of you is upset or annoyed, which may mean making an appointment.

Pensees – thoughts. When you want to express your negative thoughts, think seven times before saying these.

Questions – questions. Answer directly to questions pose by your partner.

Rire – laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine”. Laugh at the weaknesses of your partner rather than dramatise or exaggerate these. Laughing together is staying together.

Silence – silence. Don’t let silence be a usual or permanent part of your relationship.

Temoigner – witness.  Express verbal appreciation when your partner does something for you. Go for compromise or/and understanding of your differences, and be a constant testimony of this.

Utile – useful. Be certain about what you want to/have or want to say and be useful in finding solutions to the conflict or disagreement.

Valeur – value. Avoid devaluing the personality of your partner and comment on the result of the action rather than his/her value.

Winchester – Winchester (a large cylindrical bottle for holding liquid). Avoid a Winchester of accusations and blames as these block communication.

X – x (Native English speakers use ‘X’ at the end of a message to represent a kiss). Be generous with hugs and kisses even in times of disagreement.

Yeux – eyes. Look at the person in the eyes to show your genuine interest and attention.

Zenith – zenith (the highest point). The sun isn’t always at the zenith, as with your relationship. Accept that there are different seasons and moments in any relationship, but what’s constant is never abandon the willingness to communicate to each other.

Communication and compromise are needed in all relationships, not just in romantic or intimate ones.

All types of relationship cannot grow without communication, which is a skill (and not just knowledge) that can be learned (also correct ‘learnt’). Like all skills, we’ve to work at it, and let’s start with the ABC of a lasting relationship.