Philosophy, feedback go hand-in-hand

  • Published
  • By Agent Eric Knapp
  • Office of Investigations, Detachment 522 commander
Feedback and philosophy are strange bedfellows to be sure, but since honest feedback, both given and received, can be a significant emotional event, a little philosophy can help all of us make the most of the experience. 

One of my favorite philosophers, Karl Jung, wrote about the importance of a "shadow" in everyone's personality. What in the world, you might ask, does philosophy have to do with giving and receiving feedback in today's Air Force? A lot, actually. 

Jung's "shadow" was an attempt to describe how everyone's personality has aspects they do not see -- blind spots in our behavior. I cannot expect a subordinate to improve their performance if they never knew there was a problem. On the flip side, I want my boss to tell me in what areas I need work. "Everything's great ... keep up the good work" is great for your ego, but not so good when you're trying to make yourself better.
In my career as an OSI agent, I've been part of several hundred confrontational interrogations -- from rapists and murderers to cases of mistaken identity, and everything in between. Let me tell you a little secret about how interrogations work: of those hundreds of people I've talked to, the vast majority did not see themselves as bad people. 

No matter how slick I was, or how much I wanted to yell and scream, the only reliable way to get a confession was to show how their circumstances led them to make poor decisions. In other words, when a little light was shown on their "shadow," many people were able to see the situation from a different perspective. 

Interrogations are always difficult, but so is an honest feedback session. Now, I don't want to equate giving professional feedback to obtaining a criminal confession, but the idea that people need to become aware of their own blind spots and view their actions from a different perspective is the same. 

Self improvement can only come from self awareness. We owe it to our folks to help them see their "shadows." We owe it to ourselves to be willing to discover our own "shadow" when receiving feedback. I know giving and receiving honest feedback is tough. Spending a few minutes thinking about philosophy when you prepare to give or receive feedback, might just help you get the most out of the experience. Then again, it might not ... only the "shadow" knows.