The "Joy" of Feedback
What's hearing how others see you got to do with being an effective change agent?
- You might not know where you are screwing up
- You can't be an effective leader if you are offending those around you
- If you don't know what's going on, you can't respond to it
- You risk blowing up a collaboration unless you deal with increasing tensions
- You won't be able to see the sides of yourself that you are blind to (good, bad, ugly, beautiful) unless you pay attention to how others see you
- Unless you listen carefully you will miss out on a) knowing them better and b) developing a stronger connection
- This list could be very long - just think about it...
I'm really curious how people see me but I wasn't always. I remember how I thought I had it really together after years of engaging in personal growth activities. Then, because I was doing "research" I entered a 360® feedback process and found out that others saw me very differently from how I saw myself. Devastating! What a revelation! The things I learned about myself in that experience have stuck with me for years.
Earlier on I got my first taste of "the joy of feedback" in a personal development program where we were encouraged to tell people one thing we felt attracted to in them and one thing we didn’t like. It was done in a safe environment, and not everybody had to participate. I still found it terrifying, and very difficult to focus my thoughts, but the way we were encouraged to do it really helped. The most important thing I learned was to check out with the person I wanted to connect with if they were willing to hear me. I learned how to say such things clearly, crisply and without using a lot of words. Gradually I learned that people were much more curious about the negative than the positive - that was true for me too. And as a group we discovered that the prickly sensation of hearing things we were afraid of turned into a sense of connection with each other.
At this point I feel safer when I know what someone's thinking about me than when I don't, though sometimes it's still hard to hear. I feel a powerful sense of freedom once I've gone through considering what someone has told me. Sometimes it takes time to get through that part - I can be pissed off, hurt or withdrawn for a while. It can take from a few minutes to a week to let it all in and come to terms with it. Often I need to ask for clarification. In the end, I don’t always agree with what's been said. However, something almost always changes - the outcome is a clearer understanding of how I actually am. Then I can make some new choices.
I'm reminded of the TV disclaimer "do not try this at home" when they are demonstrating something dangerous. There was a lot to learn about receiving and giving feedback in ways that could be heard easily and in ways that people felt respected. That’s why we offer the inner essentials and inner activist courses.
Outside of this kind of caring environment I continue to make sure that I use the skills that I have learned, or I wind up creating new problems instead of making the connection that I desire. For instance if someone says they don't want to hear what I am thinking then it's a no-go and I found somebody else to talk to about the issue so at least I can express myself and be heard.
After a while giving and receiving feedback can become second nature, but it definitely takes practice. There are many reasons why I like doing it with family, friends and colleagues. It deepens relationships. It creates a bond that is not achievable any other way. Also, sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with a bomb under my arm and this practice defuses the bomb. Or at least it limits the damage, especially if I consciously use my skills to communicate with clarity and sensitivity. And I really would prefer it if others told me about their bombs instead of just detonating them.
Over time this can be done in a way which builds a powerful bond of honesty and human understanding. Paradoxically, after years of doing it, I still find myself resistant to it sometimes. The cost of not doing it is high, though - the disconnection that results from emotional distance and the all-too-familiar problems that arise from that disconnection.
At the Inner Activist, we've found it much more efficient and satisfying to give and receive feedback, as we are working with each other every day and tensions build if we do not. If change agents develop a culture of giving and receiving feedback spiritedly and respectfully, collaborations can become true refuges of safety and deep friendships can be developed that will support any amount of external pressure.