Crocker’s revisited

November 2013

On Monday I declared Crocker’s rules on a textbox for a day. The results were pretty interesting. Some observations:

  1. It was pretty painless. Some people expected that I would have a visceral negative reaction to feedback that fell outside the bounds of social acceptability. I didn’t find this to be the case at all. I speculate that being in text rather than in person was helpful for this (I’ve tried similar experiments in person and similarly not been offended, but they were all with people I knew quite well).
  2. I got a substantial amount of good advice. A couple examples:
    1. When I run into people I don’t know very well, sometimes I don’t acknowledge them, out of social tiredness/being worried about the conversation being awkward. In retrospect this is clearly something I should be better about but I hadn’t elevated it to the level of conscious attention. (Thanks, anonymous person!)
    2. One person called me “vaguely quiet” and another person suggested I’m too much of a nice guy. These definitely don’t agree with my model of myself, and warrant further investigation.
  3. Some people wrote in to complain that Crocker’s Rules were silly. Someone cared enough to tell me that no one would care enough to tell me anything, which was interesting.
  4. The majority of comments were completely positive and unconstructive. I mean in the vein of “You’re cool!” This was unexpected, and I’m not quite sure why it happened. Potential explanations:
    1. The post was interpreted as a veiled request for positive reinforcement instead of its naive reading as a request for honest feedback.
    2. Most people I know don’t ever think anything negative about me (unlikely).
    3. People think negative things about me, but never remember anything specific, only a general halo/anti-halo (and the audience was strongly selected for halo).
    4. People can’t be bothered to think about it at all, but want to write something because it’s fun, so they submit a default response.
    5. The positive commenters are sycophants (although this doesn’t really make sense, since the form was anonymous, so there’s nothing for them to gain).
    6. The positive commenters are unconscious sycophants, and their unconscious didn’t realize that the form was anonymous so it could stop being sycophantic.
    7. I am objectively flawless.

To disambiguate between some of the hypotheses above, I’m going to up the ante. For the next week, if you email me with substantial constructive feedback,1 I will offer you bake you delicious cookies.2 As many of my classmates can attest, I bake awesome cookies. Don’t miss this opportunity!

EDIT: Andrew points out that some people might prefer to trade feedback for feedback, rather than cookies. If you prefer feedback to cookies, I’m happy to give feedback instead.

  1. I have a low bar for “substantial”. Anything more than, like, suggesting I use three shades darker of a blue for the links on this site. (That’s still good feedback that I want to hear! Just not quite cookie-worthy.) 

  2. I’ll be baking from the excellent Flour cookbook. If you don’t live near me, I will mail them to you. They can go by first-class mail, which is inexpensive and fast enough that they don’t go stale. Yes, I do this with some frequency. 

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Peter Hurford

I gave you positive, nonconstructive feedback because I was concerned not for your feelings, but was afraid that Crocker’s Rules would only select for negative feedback, and I wanted you to have a less biased sample of results. I’m not saying you’re perfect or anything, but I don’t think anything specifically negative about you, do find you inspiring, and wanted you to know. (And the original anonymity obviously meant I wasn’t sucking up or signaling, though now perhaps I am.)


Aaron Tucker

I like the idea of Crocker’s Rules as “say whatever you want that you haven’t had any particular opportunity to say, without regard for my feelings or cultural expectations”. It’s similar, but would include random positive feedback that people don’t have any particular time to say.



Peter: thanks–that’s thoughtful of you! Although evidently you needn’t have worried…

Aaron: I like that idea too (and some of the emailed feedback I’ve gotten so far has been positive). I’ve been feeling a dearth of constructive feedback specifically, though.


John Maxwell

How did you promote your form?

Regarding positive feedback, it seems like a strong possibility to me that some people genuinely like and respect you and wanted to let you know.