Giving & Receiving Blind Spot Feedback

'Courageous Love'

2 January 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
A perfect example of blind spot feedback, and the difference it can make – where the feedback is given and received as a gift, rather than a criticism

you'll like this story if you're interested in...

I was a college lecturer, about two years into the post. I loved the job, and felt I was pretty good at it….Students had to complete assignments, which I marked. I knew students had usually put a lot of work into these, so in turn I always offered extensive comments in notes at the back of their essays. I also offered ‘surgery times’ – 15 minute slots where they could discuss their essays with me.Almost no one used these slots, which I put down to the fact I’d already given extensive feedback in my notes.Then one day, a student booked to see me. She was a good, conscientious student. I knew her well. She was not only one of my personal tutees, but also a student on three courses I taught. I was also the course leader. I looked up her grade – it was a B: a good mark, and as she was a good and conscientious student, I was keen to gether to the next grade, an A, if I could. So I was quite looking forward to our meeting.As she arrived, she looked a little sombre. I asked if everything was OK, and she nodded. So I began by telling her I was pleased with her assignment…She looked up, and said:“So was I – until I read your comments. Then I thought there must be a mistake with the grade. So I’ve come to check whether you meant to put a ‘D’ rather than a ‘B’”.I was shocked.“Of course not – it was really good. Why do you say that?”“Because, when I read your extensive, four pages of comments, they were all about what was wrong with the essay.There was nothing that was right. I couldn’t see how it had got the mark you’d given it.”That answer changed my life. I had the cold, cold flush of a truth realised, followed by the hot flush of embarrassment. I knew two things in that instant. One, that I had been making an appalling mistake as a teacher, and two, that I would change that, forever.In my desire to ‘help’ students to improve, I’d entirely focused on their gaps – the things they hadn’t done, or had left out, or the mistakes they’d made. I’d said nothing about what was good, what gave it the grade it got. Nothing! I assumed they would know that. No wonder people didn’t book for surgery time…if they’d been given such a hard time on paper, why would they put themselves through 15 minutes of the same?I told the student all of this, and that I was truly grateful for her comments. More than that, I admired her courage in offering a criticism to someone who, from her perspective, had a significant say on her outcomes on this course. I told her this, too. She then said something that also had a profound impact on my life.“You’ve taught and tutored me for three years,Arnie, and I think you are a good teacher.You’re always on our side, and you care.That’s why I couldn’t believe you would intentionally be so one sided, so critical.You mustn’tbe able to see the effect these comments had. So I thought I should say something – because, if you don’t know, how will you get to find out?”

I immediately changed. I started all feedback with what had got people to that mark. Only then did I suggest how it might be improved. And guess what – students started to come to the surgeries….

I’m pretty sure I would not be doing what I’m doing today, had it not been for that special student, with the gift of courageous love. I was grateful then, and I’m grateful now, 30 years later...

If you don't know, how will you get to find out...?

There are a number of takeaways from this story:

  • Feedback
  • Assumptions
  • Reframing
  • Intent
  • Courageous conversations
  • Leadership


This was the single, most important piece of feedback I’ve ever had in my life. I had no idea how I was behaving, or the consequences of that behaviour, until it was pointed out to me. First and foremost, it was a brilliant, and brilliantly executed, example of blind spot feedback. People don’t know what they don’t know: and if they are blind, as I was, to their behaviour, or the impact it has, then they cannot self-correct, and will be stuck with it forever unless someone provides feedback. And secondly, the feedback was balanced: she started with positives, about me generally, and about other behaviours of mine. This inevitably made me responsive to listening, and more accepting of what was to follow. The incident also made me aware that people might also have positive blind spots – things that they aren’t aware they do, or of the positive impact created. So it’s always worth crediting people for their positive behaviours and work, rather than just assuming ‘well, surely they know…’


I had assumed that students were not attending my surgeries because they were happy with my detailed comments (ha!). Yet such a significant ‘no show’ should have made me rethink, and not rely on a (positive) assumption.


Of course people tend to feel it is risky giving blind spot feedback, which is why it is important to see it as a gift. But the other aspect that might make it more comfortable is to realise the intent of the feedback. Most people can easily tell the difference between blind spot feedback that is intended to be helpful and supportive, and any such feedback that is meant to be hurtful and disapproving. So if you are ever in doubt about giving such feedback, consider the context in which you are giving it, and in which it is likely to be received.


Crucial to giving and receiving blind spot feedback is to see it as a gift, not a criticism. Ever since this example, I have welcomed and encouraged further blind spot feedback, because, in simple but profound terms, ‘it sets me free’. We are all imprisoned by our negative blind spots – unless and until we are made aware of them….

See it as a gift, not a criticism.

Courageous conversations

We often talk about ‘challenging conversations’, but this one should be considered as a ‘courageous’ one. The student didn’t know how I would react, and it’s important to recognise that there was a real potential power difference between us that could have made it easier to avoid having the conversation: I was a lecturer, she was a student; I was her course leader, tutor on three of her courses, and her personal tutor. It would have been understandable if she had thought twice about giving such feedback under those circumstances. But she certainly had the courage of her convictions, and I – as I expect is the case for most people – admired that.


Sometimes ‘leadership is not in the title’; such leadership happens when someone steps up, and steps out. Steps up into a higher order action, which often requires courage, and steps out of their comfort zone, which also required courage – all because it is the right thing to do. To me, this student demonstrated such leadership in this particular situation.

That answer changed my life... I was grateful then, and I’m grateful now, 30 years later.
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