Every laugh you make …

You have the capacity to learn from mistakes.
You will learn a lot today.

I gave feedback to a few customer products a day ago, at let’s be honest, the products were really, really bad. I have to refer to Pratchett here to express the kind of badness: They didn’t only waste time and were boring, they induced the kind of “particularly high brand of boredom which is like the boredom you get which is a) costing you money, and b) is taking place while you should be having a nice time.” (“Eric” by Terry Pratchett).

To make matters worse, they were created for a volunteer audience that does not have a very high commitment to use these products in the first place.

Unfortunately, the colleagues who produced these products asked for feedback. That wasn’t a problem per se, you only have to tell someone that her baby sucks … in a bad way. The problem came when I was filling out the feedback questionnaire. It came in the form of laughter.

I can be very sarcastic at times, although I prefer to be ironic, packaging a truth that will hurt in a remark that can be unpacked at will. This works (sometimes) in conversations, but it does not work with a written questionnaire.

Given that my annoyance level was quite high (in terms of negative motivation, these products really were a success), I had a few good laughs describing my annoyance with the products, that they wasted my time, that they did not work properly, that the competition is much, much better, and that they go completely past the intended target audience.

What was intended like a warning shot (“get your act together and listen to the target audience for /&(/&%&%&$ sake”) became unintentionally very hurtful.

Feedback to my feedback came today and it took some messages with honest apologies to clear the issue up.

The worst part isn’t that I hurt others, but that the feedback didn’t improve the work, which it should. No matter that there were some points that highlighted why it was a bad product, these issues got lost in the other remarks. No matter that this would probably be the reaction of the target audience unfiltered, they didn’t expect this kind of feedback from me — and they shouldn’t.

So, I fucked up a little. I think I set the matter straight (which wasn’t fun, but after all, it shouldn’t be), and I’ve learned a little. I think it can be summed up in the following paragraph:

If you are laughing/snickering to yourself while you’re filling out a questionnaire, stop. The researcher won’t laugh about it, but feel every laugh as a sting to the heart. No matter how funny it may appear on the page or how righteous you may feel, it’s unprofessional and won’t help a bit.