The Day I Stopped Listening to Feedback

July 30, 2018

 

THE "GIFT" OF FEEDBACK 

 

Feedback is a gift. I truly believe this statement. Yet, oftentimes, the way feedback is delivered leaves much to be desired. I’d like to meet the leader who has asked someone to their office, close the door, and heaped a mountain of praise on them. I can feel the eye rolls and snickers from you as I write this. We can almost all agree, feedback is one of those words that has become synonymous with criticism.

 

Critical feedback is not fun. Critical feedback often focuses on a mistake we have made in performance or an interaction with others. It stings. The sting is worse when that feedback is anonymous and is delivered as if it is unanimous. Many of us have heard the phrase, “I’ve received feedback from others on your (performance/interaction) and we all agree that….” Ouch!! Where are these legions of people who believe I have failed to live up to their expectations? This statement is usually delivered by a leader who is conflict averse. This leader requires the agreement of the masses to be able to "competently" deliver the unanimous agreement that you are failing. Fun times....

 

What if we looked at feedback through a different lens? What if we shift control of feedback from the person who delivers to the person who receives it? What if we look at feedback as a mechanism for how we are viewed by the world and we get to CHOOSE if that fits our view of ourselves? What if we change the word feedback to insights and a statement of how someone is experiencing us? What if those insights are a proposal to try a different perspective or mindset?

 

WOULD YOU MIND CHANGING TO MAKE ME COMFORTABLE ?

 

When my mother was at the height of her cancer battle, she and I were feuding like never before. She recently had a successful and massive 10-hour surgery. Believing herself cured, she resumed what I viewed as hyper-critical and slightly unhinged behavior. Around this same time, I was having a difficult time at work, not with performance, but with how colleagues viewed me. While I was stewing about how unfairly I was being treated at work, I was at the same time wondering why my mother couldn’t change her behavior. The feedback from my mom was that I was too hard, too matter of fact, and not approachable. This is who I am I thought. I didn't feel the need to change. She needed to change her attitude and not be so sensitive. She should change....then it hit me…why should she? 

 

My mother was 60 years-old. Why did she need to accept my criticism of her and change her behavior? She was successful in her own right. Why did she need to conform to my idea of “rightness”? That was a pivotal moment in my thought process. It was at that time that I realized that I needed to change my attitude towards my mother and accept her for who she was. I realized that if I wanted my mother to be different, I needed to be different in my interactions with her. I realized that my mother’s reactions to me were her defensiveness to the way I was communicating with her. 

 

There is an old saying - if one person calls you a horse, disregard it. If 10 people call you a horse, buy a saddle. Guess what the feedback I received at work called out? I was too hard, too matter of fact, and unapproachable. 

 

This realization was the jolt I needed to deal with my situation at work. I changed my view of feedback and realized that people were trying to give me insights into how they were experiencing me. This became a journey into self-awareness for me. It was at that time, in the office of one of my dearest friends, that I heard the phrase that would change my life. 

 

We have all heard the saying “perception is reality”. This statement still burns me. It is lazy and incomplete. That phrase feels like an attempt to bully people into altering their behavior to suit another person. This phrase is basically “I don’t like you and since my perception is all that counts, change.” I was given that phrase too many times to count. My friend flipped the conversation for me that day. The words he gave me, as we were discussing someone else, were “she doesn’t understand that her intent doesn’t match her impact.” 

 

Mind. Blown. 

 

That simple insight changed my life. 

 

INSIGHTS HELP INCREASE SELF-AWARENESS

 

Intent matching impact put the power directly back into my hands. I could choose how people experienced me by understanding myself and how they saw me. Similar to my relationship with my mom, I could determined my actions and reactions based on the individual with whom I interacted. By understanding how I was viewed, I could flex my style to the situation. It was a corporate form of code switching. Eureka! I hit gold. But I didn’t know what to do with this new accumulation of self-awareness wealth.

 

FEEDBACK ILLUMINATES BLINDSPOTS

 

It was in the moment, coupled with a great Harvard Business Review article on feedback, that I switched my perception of feedback. I decided that feedback was really an insight to help me. I learned about blind spots and how detrimental they could be to your life. Blind spots are those hidden things we are just not good at doing or anticipating. These are different from weaknesses. Weaknesses can be fixed. Blind spots are game changers. They will stop you from accomplishing anything and may even set you back. The thing about blind spots is that no one likes when they are called out. Hence the reason "feedback" is rarely received well.

 

Determining your blind spots is an extremely important step toward self-awareness. I am derailed by high emotions. In my organization, I have encountered more than a few people who operate on high emotion and react with a “the sky is falling” thought process to stress. At times, my reaction to their stress has eroded the trust built between us. I tend to react with extreme logic in emotional situations and try explain to the person every logical reason why his or her reaction is over the top. However, if you understand anything about emotional situations, logic is not appreciated. Hence the insight from my mother and my colleagues that I was hard and unbending.

 

This blind spot was detrimental to my career. I had to find a few trusted resources to help me identify the obstacle when I am confronted with an emotional situation. My husband, father, and friends Autumn and Catrena are my sounding boards. I use them to vent my frustration and they help me respond to the situation appropriately. 

 

Let's go back to my mother. How emotional do you think her situation was? She had pancreatic cancer and was struggling to survive. Even though her surgery was successful, she had to do 8 more rounds of chemotherapy. I bet you can see how I was interacting with her in our conversations. My mother was in a highly emotional state and I responded only with logic - not helpful.

 

After understanding how self-awareness and insights went hand in hand, I was able to adjust my behavior and reactions by flexing to the style of anyone. This adjustment also helped me understand the many different sides of a situation. I was able to become a better teammate and leader as a result. I also became a much better daughter to my mother.

 

Self-awareness helped me end the crushing effects of feedback. The gift of feedback will never disappear. I now view it through a different lens. I realized that feedback is another person’s attempt to provide me with insights into how they experience me. Armed with that information, I now use it to decide if my intent matches my impact.

 

Then I get to CHOOSE what actions I will take to alter my course – or not.

 

Questions

 

1. Do you have a blind spot where others have tried to give you feedback?

2. How did you receive that feedback?

3. Can you view the feedback as another person's insights into how they were experiencing you?

4. How can you use insights to help others see blind spots?

 

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