Ying HeApril 27, 2018

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“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life” —Steve Jobs

Looking back to my first day of work as an intern at Feedback Labs, I didn’t really understand the meaning of the word “feedback.” In my mind, feedback was a one-way arrow. The process was: “A gives feedback to B,” end of story. That had been my shallow understanding of feedback for years, and I never even knew I could go deeper.

But, my experience at Feedback Labs introduced me to what feedback can be and how powerful it is. Feedback is no longer a plain word for me. I believe in its power to change people’s lives.

Feedback is about real action and changes. While pulling together an introduction to feedback concepts, I had the chance to read dozens of articles produced by the feedback community. The first article I read was by Dennis Whittle, Feedback Labs CEO, about his early experiences at the World Bank Group. He wrote: “over time, I have grown to believe that regular people should have the most say in selecting which aid initiatives are chosen to help them.”

In my most recent reading, Melinda Tuan explained how the Center for Employment Opportunity improved their job program supporting individuals transitioning out of prison based on feedback from program participants.

It was great to read these articles that showed how organizations can take action on the problems their constituents tell them about. As an intern, I am super proud of what Feedback Labs does: put regular people in the driver’s seat!

What made me consider feedback as a one-way arrow in the past? Before college, I studied under the Chinese education system for 15 years. Every Chinese student encounters the uneven power dynamic in school. The school system is very rigid and student voices are neglected and unheard. In high school, my headmaster told me directly that the school didn’t need a student government because feedback from students would only complicate the school’s decision-making process. After being disappointed by the education system for years, I began to lose faith in communication and feedback. I started to lose my voice.

My faith in feedback and communication has been restored after interning with Feedback Labs.

The experience has been like valuable therapy for me. Feedback is not only what Feedback Labs advocates for externally, but also what we practice internally! My boss, Meg, spends time to understand my experiences at work, concerns and new ideas. Her consistent attention to my internship experience, and the rest of the team’s ability to maintain an open working environment has really moved me.

At our office, we fill out weekly Office Vibe surveys about how satisfied we feel at work and analyze the data collected during our weekly meeting. After analyzing, we actually brainstorm ways to improve our working environment and put feedback into action. As a beginner in the feedback community, I feel the team’s passion for feedback and appreciate the efforts they make to live up to high feedback standards. I can’t really describe my surprise at first at witnessing this passion and effort, but I can definitely say that interning at Feedback Labs has been a pivotal moment in my college experience and will empower me to speak up more and act more in the future.

It is not just an appreciation for feedback that I’m taking away from my experience. From an insightful presentation by Megan Campbell I learned the difference between diversity, inclusion and equity. According to Megan’s presentation, diversity is the presence of different identities in a group, inclusion is when people of different identities feel respected and welcomed in the group and equity is about the process of recognizing how different identities face different advantages and barriers, and then seeking to address those imbalances. All of a sudden, a problem I’d been unable to speak about finally made sense!

“Equity” was the word I needed to express my experience as an international college student in the US. International students face common barriers in academics, career searches and leadership opportunities while at college, and we rarely talk about these problems or take action to help each other out. One small but important barrier is our difficulty with email communication. I often see international students quit trying to communicate with professors via email because they don’t want to come across as rude when they are really just unfamiliar with US writing styles. The result is that international students aren’t able to network as well with professors who can help with academic opportunities or student leaders who can give career advice. Many small challenges like this prevent international students from enjoying all that American universities have to offer. Out of the desire to promote equity and develop a healthy feedback loop for international students, my friends and I have decided to devote time to identifying and solving challenges like these for international students at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When I return to UNC-Chapel Hill, I’ll achieve this mission by following the “Closed Feedback Loop” model developed by Feedback Labs. Feedback Labs believes that simply collecting feedback is not enough. The “Closed Feedback Loop” teaches me a smart way to actually take action and make changes based on feedback. I won’t let that feedback be a one-way arrow, instead I am going to overturn my past prejudice and apply the smartest way to put feedback into action.

My internship at Feedback Labs has been world-class and I love it so much! Thank you to the feedback community for teaching me and being patient with me.

Thank you, Meg, Megan, Dennis and Sarah – I will always remember this experience with my heart.

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