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“The Triple Filter Test” – useful for giving and receiving feedback (and for mastering emotions)

socrates

It’s the time of the year where many organizations are in the process of providing performance and development feedback based on the annual results. Considering how emotionally heated this process can become sometimes, be it on the giving or receiving end, I would like to share with you the ancient wisdom – “the triple filter test” of Socrates, which has become one of my favorite tools for giving and receiving feedback.

The simple story is about an acquaintance meeting Socrates and asking him: “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”. Socrates replies: “Hold on. Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“Well, no,” the man says, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” says Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now, let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continues, “you want to tell me something bad about my friend, but you aren’t certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left – the filter of Usefulness or Necessity. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful or necessary to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concludes Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

So, whenever you intend to give feedback or decide to share information about someone, you can always use this simple “triple filter test” to ensure that what you are going to say is of a factual and constructive nature, helping the other person grow, and that it is not just your moody emotional discharge, your unconscious reaction or a gossip that you are passing on.

The same applies if you are on the receiving end of the feedback about yourself or about others. If it doesn’t pass the “triple filter test”, then thank the person for sharing his/her opinion and feel free to just ignore it. However, if what you hear is fact-based, constructive, growth-oriented, useful, then welcome it and integrate it.

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