artwork by Lindsay Mound

Feedback Can Be A Choking Hazard

Morgan Evans
5 min readMay 24, 2023


Everything I do revolves around feedback: teaching people about it, making space for people to practice it and building routine structures for it. I’ve built a business helping organizations design systems for saying hard things out loud, learning lessons from mistakes and running companies that operate in accordance with their values.

Since my early days working in HR at Etsy, the corporate concept of “feedback” lodged itself in my brain as a path for salvation in all areas of my life. The more I learned about it, the more I started to crave the kind of real-talk that comes with consistent, thoughtful feedback. I still sweat when I know there’s feedback for me looming, but more times than I can count I’ve experienced how asking for feedback early and often makes the whole experience way less stressful for everyone involved.

These days I ask for feedback not because I’m super brave or bulletproof (if anything, the opposite is true). I do it because I want to avoid the feeling of being blindsided by something huge, or my own personal nightmare — never knowing what went wrong. It is daunting to walk into a conversation and acknowledge pain points out loud, or open yourself up to real-time reactions from others about something you’ve done, but it is always better out than in. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

But even feedback pros like me constantly get caught in the weeds. That’s honestly what’s so fascinating about it – the field is forever leveled by the fact that we are only human, doing our best but fumbling nonetheless.

The other day I was playing tennis (for the first time since I was 12) with my partner and her family. At one point, she gave me the feedback that I should hold my racket with one hand, rather than two, like I was slugging a baseball bat. I knew she had a point because every time I made contact with the ball I launched it like a rocket and was hitting more home runs than friendly volleys. But I didn’t take it well. Feeling criticized and embarrassed, I got defensive, responding wordlessly with a scowl.

Days later, we talked about this interaction (it actually came up as I was writing this piece lol). Upon reflection, I realized that her pointer had felt harsh to me because she gave it to me unsolicited. I went from fooling around on the court and having fun to feeling suddenly scrutinized, and I was self-conscious about getting this criticism in front of her family. All of these invisible factors, plus some subtle nuances of tone and timing led to an immature reaction I wasn’t proud of. Unpacking it helped me feel better about the whole thing, and we laughed about it. In the end, I was able to learn something about myself and let her in on that process. Even a non-elegant feedback exchange like this one can be a portal for personal growth and deepen your relationships. Kinda cool.


The thing is, even good feedback can feel sticky or confusing at first, giving rise to knee-jerk reactions of defensiveness or denial, but once it settles and you wrap your brain around it, the sensation can shift to expansion, even exhilaration. Ultimately feedback is a process of articulation which transforms inevitable feelings of friction that build up between you and others into something external that can be diffused and examined together.

People sometimes think they are doing a service by holding stuff in, but the opposite is true. There’s nothing like that heart-sinking feeling that hits when you look in a mirror and spot food in your teeth, but you haven’t eaten in hours. The betrayal you feel from everyone who saw it and said nothing cuts deep. Not speaking up is how we abdicate responsibility for caring for each other. That being said, I’ve definitely kept quiet at the sight of something that looks like spinach stuck between someone’s two front teeth because I didn’t want to humiliate them, or I had no idea how to bring it up. We need better instructions for this kind of thing. And now we have exactly that.

Introducing the Feedback Can Be A Choking Hazard poster, brought to you by Business Casual and coming soon to a workplace near you! The design is inspired by OSHA compliance signage (think: “choking victim” posters in restaurants that explain the Heimlich Maneuver) but it’s about choking on words, not chicken.

Buy it here :)

The poster shares step-by-step instructions for getting tough stuff off your chest and for digesting criticism that’s hard to swallow. It also outlines best practices for inviting input from folks around you so that you’re taking in a regular diet of bite-sized feedback instead of choking on it in the first place.

I came up with this idea in 2018 (I honestly just thought it was a hilarious concept) and since then I have been sketching out and revising the content in the hopes of making it concise and appealing to the average eye. The poster was designed and illustrated by my friend, the talented Lindsay Mound. She created the amazing characters and the visual threads that bring it to life. Last month, Business Casual employee #1, Teddy, and I took a crash course in all the options for paper weights and production methods by hitting the streets and going door to door visiting print shops all over New York City. Ultimately we chose a worker-owned cooperative, Radix Media, to get the final version printed and they did an incredible job.

Teddy with the first version of the printed poster

Feedback paves the paths along which people can connect meaningfully with others, and which they can follow to reach the highest expression of themselves. I honestly do believe that feedback can save the world.

When feedback isn’t shared or acknowledged it can ruin the best relationships and be toxic to a workplace. It’s time to take our collective aversion to feedback as seriously as the health hazard that it is.

Giving thoughtful feedback is crucial to helping others learn about themselves and getting feedback gives you a better sense of yourself. We all need more of it! This poster is a PSA to make tough communication easier for us all – especially when under pressure on the job. Order yours today.

Want to learn more about Business Casual? Drop us a line here.



Morgan Evans

Founder of Business Casual, MS in Change Management from The New School, formerly @Etsy