Feedback: Who You Listen to Is Just as Important as Who You Ignore
Over the past year, feedback has played a critical role in my growth. Seeking feedback has been a system of mine since I stopped drinking. So why did it take thirteen years for me to see any results? A glitch was sabotaging my feedback system. I was jogging 5 miles a day and eating an extra-large fat-free/high sugar frozen yogurt covered in rainbow sprinkles for dinner wondering why I couldn’t shake the extra few pounds. One blind spot can derail an entire system. Feedback is either a tsunami wiping out miles of beach or rocket fuel that can blast you to the moon, there is no in between.
After thirty years of doing things my way and ending up with a suicide note in my side table drawer, I became open to feedback. This was my first experience taking advice. Without alcohol as anesthesia, I was swallowed by the pain of poor choices and unprocessed emotions. A flesh container filled with impulses and fears, it was amazing that I had survived for thirty years without listening to anyone. Desperation gave me the willingness to try a different way. As the AA old timers say, I took the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth.
My life grew exponentially as I followed suggestions from my sponsor and other sober women from AA. I met my husband, we had our daughter, bought an apartment, settled into the American Dream. A year after the birth of my son, my ego started whispering, “we can take it from here.” It’s easy to locate the periods in my life when I allowed this thought to be my driver; dragging myself out of a burning vehicle is always the next scene in the movie. Eight years sober, with every box checked I hit a spiritual bottom.
With pain as my motivator, I returned to AA and started working with Jeff. Yes, is a gift of willingness and I started saying yes again to whatever was suggested. The feedback system was successfully re-instated; I began to feel better.
Widening the feedback circle with my expansion, I noticed how a casual comment could deflate me. Negative or careless feedback can destroy an embryonic idea in a sentence. Yet, I kept bringing dreams to intelligent people with clipped wings and walked away believing that flight was not an option. Unaware of my blind spot in this pattern, I thought I needed to keep working on becoming a better me who would produce better ideas.
Rarely did I strategically select the source of feedback because unbeknownst to me, information wasn’t my objective, I was looking for approval and love. Proximity also made a lot of my decisions. It was easy to be lazy with a ton of well-educated friends who will give me thirty minutes of their day. I would share whatever idea was percolating with whoever was next up on my calendar. A stopped clock is right twice a day, so sometimes I got lucky.
At the two Tony Robbins events, I attended this past year, my blind spot was uncloaked. First, I had to separate love and approval from my feedback loop. Next, I had to get clear on what I wanted to accomplish. If you want useful answers, then you need to carefully construct your questions. Then I had to look at how I selected a feedback source. Tony says that mastery is doing something every day, taking a course or reading a book doesn’t make you a master of anything. The key to feedback is finding someone who is living and breathing the topic, so it is integrated into their bloodstream and not an extraneous subject they study. For example, seeing a shrink who is single to discuss your marriage because she has a degree from Columbia on her wall is the wrong determining factor. Going to a friend who still giggles and holds hands with her husband fifteen years later will always yield superior results.
The other day on a plane, I was able to help someone who was struggling with addiction. I know I have a black belt in this area, so I spoke up confidently when the young man across the aisle asked me if I thought he drank too much. I also know when to keep my mouth shut or recommend another feedback source. If I am giving boardroom advice based on Adam Grant’s brilliant presentation philosophy in The Originals, the only thing you should consider is purchasing the book. I haven’t given a business presentation for over fifteen years. Yesterday’s work doesn’t qualify when considering a feedback source.
If you choose to casually share a new endeavor with a friend or colleague, be prepared for unsolicited feedback. Knowing who to listen to and who to ignore is an essential skill. Always ask yourself before the wind leaves your sails “Is this person qualified to give me feedback in this area? Better yet, be conscious about what you share with whom. Just because someone is a good colleague or mother friend doesn’t mean they will understand your creative vision.
Positive people who always agree with every word you say are great fuel sources, but they aren’t ideal for feedback either. If your heart rate hasn’t picked up when you request feedback, then you are playing it safe. I showed three people preliminary blog posts before starting The Growth Project: one person for quality, another person for content and then my husband who I can count on to say it all. Building a site without this due diligence would have been wasteful if all three of them declared that my articles didn’t align with my mission.
Here is my Feedback hit list as a take away:
- Feedback is critical, but who you choose to receive it from more so.
- Don’t default to the easily accessible. Your smart and available friend who attended Princeton twenty years ago isn’t qualified to coach you in many areas. Doing extra research and finding the six degrees of separation source is worth the effort.
- Ask yourself before approaching any source “Why are you qualified to give me feedback on X.” The answer should be as evident as the color of the sky.
- If you find yourself a recipient of unsolicited feedback, don’t mistake certainty for sage wisdom. Knowing what to ignore is just as important as your great idea.
- Feedback is only valuable if you implement it. Don’t waste people’s time unless you are ready to go the distance.