The Feedback Gap – How to get more accurate audience feedback

A new stereo was being developed, and the electronics company created a focus group. They gathered people around to ask them what they thought of the stereo.

The features, whether they liked it, what they’d be willing to pay.

People said they’d happily pay $90, $100, or even $200.

Of course, the electronics company was thrilled! People loved the stereo!

Then, the focus group leader had an idea — he said “we’d love to thank you for participating in the focus group! We’ll be selling this stereo for $80, but we’d love to give you one. You can choose either the stereo or $20 cash”.

You guessed it — everyone took the cash. They’d been providing positive feedback the entire time to fit in with the group, not appear harsh or negative, and be liked by the focus group leader. After all, the company had spent millions of dollars developing the stereo! They didn’t want to be discouraging.

The Feedback Gap

You see, there’s a gap between what people say and what people do.

When a waitress asks what we thought of a meal, we say we loved it (and perhaps we even did!), but most times, we don’t go back to the restaurant or tell our friends about it.

We say we had a great time at the end of a date, but do we agree to a second date? Sometimes….but not always.

You see, asking someone if they liked something (or asking for feedback) is a blunt instrument — it doesn’t tell us anything informative. We’d rather be encouraging and agreeable. Everyone is susceptible to this.

The Feedback Gap is created because we’re socialized to be agreeable and positive. There’s a narrow range of things we love enough to share, buy, or pay attention to, but a wide range of things we’ll say we like if asked.

Ultimately, audiences lie to us. Bummer, right?

Here’s why this matters — there’s a wide variety of talks, books, blog posts and ideas within you. People will say many of them are good ideas (if asked), but what that doesn’t tell us is what the BEST ones are. If everything is “good” we don’t have an accurate way of judging what “great” is from our audience’s perspective.

Here’s a challenge for today — the next time you’d like feedback on something, provide multiple versions (eg: rather than “what do you think about this article title”, try for “here are 3 titles I’m considering…which do you think is the best?”). In providing multiple options, you provide the opportunity for someone to give you feedback in a non-biased way, and you can start to close the Feedback Gap.



Ryan Hildebrandt
Ryan Hildebrandt
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