Some people have a talent for giving constructive feedback. They see others clearly. They approach others with enough fascination to gain insights that read people below the obvious surface impressions. Their sense of others is complex and considerate of tradeoffs, conflicting ambitions and unconscious motives. This issue came up on Steve Roesler's blog last week in a post titled: Talent, Systems, Change, and Truthful Self-Perception. If you read through the comments, you'll get a comprehensive sense of this issue.
Performance reviews and promotion decisions are plagued by rater bias. One work around this is 360 degree feedback that gathers the perceptions from a circle of superiors, colleagues an underlings. Another solution relies on proprietary psychometric instruments like the Myers Briggs or DISC assessments. I've used the Myers Briggs scale on myself several times over 30 years. I'm very impressed with the Myers Briggs instrument because I get the same result every time (INFP). I was certified in the use of the DISC instrument years ago, but have not had equal success with it. I suspect it only assesses the idealized self and coping mechanisms we all show the world, rather than our deeper, inner nature. The feedback was not taken as constructive by most and did not appear to resonate with many of my clients' sense of authenticity (being real, being true to oneself, etc.)
As I explored the nature of family systems and ecosystems, I realized that "seeing others clearly" and "giving accurate feedback" are likely to be emergent properties of systems. Individuals may demonstrate a talent for giving feedback in the context that supports that conduct. Likewise the feedback they give others will "miss the mark" in situations that are rife with hostilities, power struggles, abuse or fear. The appearance of the talent depends on the situation. Corrupted, biased and destructive feedback are all very common in family, school or workplace dramas predicated on self contempt. The talent for giving accurate feedback is usually scarce and sorely needed because it is not an emergent property of the toxic system in use.
It's human nature to go to extremes when we're afraid. We become extremely productive when we're afraid of being seen as lazy. We get fanatic about getting attention when we're devastated by indifference and neglect. We go crazy about pleasing others when we scared of being rejected, ostracized or dismissed. These over-reactions skew our perceptions of other people. We idealize one extreme and demonize the other. We give feedback on the basis of there being one right answer, a normative standard to adhere to, and an ideal to live up to. We cannot handle deviation, variation and experimentation.
When we have gone to any extreme, the opposite becomes our shadow. We have a dark side that we don't admit to. We pretend it doesn't exist in us, but take offense when we see it in others. Rather than successfully getting it to disappear, we become haunted by our missing half. Our shadow appears in our dreams, shows up as unwanted characters in our lives or in outbursts we regret after we feel like ourselves again. Because we are keeping this opposite extreme in denial, it functions demonically. The only choice of our dark side is to seek the destruction of our false pride, delusional conceit, and arrogant idea of how good we really are. We are our own worst enemy when we fail to accept our own dark side.
The feedback we give while in this state of mind is far from clear. We're keeping a lid on stormy emotions and compensating for our cloudy misperceptions. We cannot handle the truth about ourselves, so we don't see the truth in others. We are lacking insights and intuitions about others because our mind is in turmoil. We think we are giving others feedback when we are actually projecting our own insecurities or superiority on to them. We are effectively blaming them for making us feel unhappy and seeing our own large misgivings in their small shortcomings. We fall into collusion and conflicts with like-minded people. We agree who's at fault, who to make into the enemy and who to guard against. The social system we keep perpetuated and replicated cannot handle seeing others clearly. They need to label, stereotype and diminish others overrides the value of accurate appraisals.
Systems that support constructive feedback are based on mutual respect. Differences between people are valued and balance is found between personally favored extremes. Contributions are non-conformist and insights about others are numerous. Individuals are self aware and accepting of their own dark sides. Unresolved issues get processed as they arise. Extremes presented as desperately necessary get contained by the whole range of valuable options. Everyone has received lots of feedback that seems congruent with how they know themselves to be. There's a shared expectation generated from these experiences that feedback from others will be accurate and useful. Seeing others clearly emerges from the healthy social system in play.