Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feedback: The Other F Word No One Likes

Feedback. Many say they want it, but do they really? As an advisor, this is a huge tension point for me. Students tell me that they want to learn and grow, but then bristle at the feedback. Well, in all honesty, I suppose they bristle at the critical feedback.  It's hard hearing the things that we can do better.

Last week I had a day in which several people offered me unsolicited critical feedback on how I could be better:  "Your website needs XYZ on the front page."; "You know, nobody thinks you like them."; "Have you ever thought about pulling together all of the chapter presidents for a weekly meeting to talk about issues in the community."; "You ask too many questions."; "Wow, that dress is really interesting."; etc. Honestly, it kept coming all day long.  I was tired, discouraged and depleted as I sulked to my car.

It occurred to me that my main issue with the day wasn't the feedback itself.  Instead, I found that the delivery, relevance and overall critical nature were the challenge.  Of course, being a (sometimes too much so) reflective person I started to think about how others take my feedback.  Despite the sentiments of some, I don't snack on small children's hopes and dreams.  I do have a soul and care about how others are experiencing me as a leader.  I have been in conversations where I am called to share some tough insights into situations.  As a result, I felt compelled to reach out and gather some feedback on myself.

A valued alumnus that used to receive a lot of my feedback provided me with these insights:
  • "When you mention things that I do well (positive reinforcement), that helps. Makes me feel good about who I am before realizing/talking about what I should work on. Gives a little motivation to do the hard stuff."
  • Feedback "...can make me frustrated/irritated in the moment, and even if it doesn't seem to hit me then, I always think about it later and put effort into working it out on my own." 
  • "I know even when I get frustrated with it, I still appreciate the help in realizing what I need to work on."
Interesting food for thought.  Gives all of us a good starting point for those times that we need to coach our peers or those we oversee.  The dialogue with my alumnus also reminded me that feedback should also be positive.  We all need to hear affirmation that the work we are doing makes a difference.  We need acknowledgement that others see how hard we are trying.  We need a cheerleader for our souls - someone that can keep us moving when we see the next hurdle.

This isn't easy.  It isn't a popular thing to do.  But, it is my hope that many of you will leave USD and find great success in your career.  For many, that success will put you in a position of leadership over others.  And, then, you may just find yourself having to provide both positive and critical feedback to those that call you "boss".

And, maybe, just maybe you will remember that sometimes giving the feedback is just as difficult as hearing it.

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