Can I talk to you about something?
The other day, after a particularly busy day working and taxiing my kids around, I was sat in my relaxation space/office nursing a splitting headache, trying to switch off and rest with some aromatherapy oils diffusing. My partner popped his head round the door to check what I was doing and if I was ok. He came in and asked me if he could talk to me about something. Now I don’t know about you, but invariably, when someone says something like that to me, my defences immediately go up, I get that funny feeling in my stomach and I start feeling a bit anxious and uncomfortable. In my experience, to me it means that I’m unlikely to feel good about what that person is going to say.
As it turned out, my instincts were pretty much spot on. My partner sat opposite me in one of the chairs and asked if he could give me some feedback on my recent blog “Permission Slips”. You need to understand that my lovely man is one of my greatest supporters and is 100% behind me as my dreams for my own coaching business come to fruition. I value his opinions on the sometimes crazy things I do, above anyone else. So, despite my headache and general yucky feeling in myself, I braced myself to hear what he had to say. In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to postpone until I was feeling a bit more human but hey ho...
My partner was concerned that I had maybe painted myself in a poor light to you, my followers and potential clients, by virtue of revealing that I too have bad days and have my own personal coach to support me through them. He was being true and authentic to himself by being honest and expressing his opinion; and I fully respect that. Unfortunately, at the time I wasn’t in the right head or heart space to fully appreciate it.
That question “Can I talk to you about something?” had already got me on the back foot, on top of feeling sensitive and tired due to a long and busy day. As you can no doubt imagine, I didn’t take his feedback very well, lashed out a little (a lot!) and ended up in tears, which I am 100% sure was not his intention in the slightest.
So many things were going through my mind… How could he be so harsh and critical - can’t he see what I’m trying to do? Doesn’t he know me at all? Are my blogs that rubbish? Why did I agree to letting him talk to me now? Most of them made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except maybe the one about the timing of our conversation!!
Later that evening, when I had calmed down (a lot!) and we were back to being friends, I got to thinking about feedback and how we give it to each other. I was reminded of Brene Brown (again!) and her book Daring Greatly. If any of you haven’t read the book (and I would strongly recommend any of her books), she discusses a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, in a speech he delivered at the Sorbonne, France on 23 April 1910:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Brene describes this as the ultimate definition of vulnerability. Being all in; in the arena, covered in blood, sweat and dust; showing up and letting our true and most authentic selves be seen. And it is this vulnerability that is at the heart of the feedback process, whether we are giving, receiving or asking for it.
Giving feedback is about having tough conversations, conversations that can make us, whether giving or receiving, feel excruciatingly uncomfortable. It isn’t, however, about shaming, blaming, belittling, humiliating or harassing people, making them feel disengaged. It is about constructive, honest and engaged feedback and sometimes pushes us completely outside of our comfort zones. And if the person giving you the feedback is right there with you in the arena, also covered in blood, sweat and dust, then you’re more than likely to take that feedback on board. It feels trusted, more credible and less like criticism as they are in that vulnerable space too, with you.
Constructive, honest and engaged feedback is about “sitting on the same side of the table” with someone. Brene refers to this in her Engaged Feedback Checklist, which is available to freely download from her website (link below):
I know when I am ready to give feedback when:
· I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you;
· I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it towards you);
· I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue;
· I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes;
· I recognise your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges;
· I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you;
· I’m willing to own my part;
· I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticise you for your failings;
· I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity; and
· I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.
So back to my feedback experience…
My blogs are a space for me to be true to myself; to be authentic and vulnerable about some of the issues I deal with or think about on a day to day basis. Things that I think may resonate with you, that maybe you’d like help with or just knowing that someone else like you goes through the same things is enough! Whether you agree with the things I say and do is up to you but the feedback so far from readers has been pretty positive!
When my other half gave me the feedback, I felt vulnerable and exposed and doubted my choices over being so honest and open in public. At the time, I felt like he was a critic on the side-lines, and I was heartbroken that he didn’t understand where I was coming from and that someone I trusted implicitly with their opinion wasn’t WITH me, in the arena.
On reflection, I know that my partner simply wanted the best for me; he had well and truly entered the arena with me, allowing himself to be open, honest and vulnerable enough to have a truly tough conversation and actually give me some feedback, knowing that it could be construed as criticism. He never once shamed me, called me names or humiliated me. He was pushing me out of my comfort zone so that I could grow and be the best I can be! And for that I am truly grateful!
So what have I learnt from this?
Well, a few things..
...knowing who my supporters are; the people who I truly value in terms of their feedback around my endeavours and trusting that they are WITH me in the arena. The real critics, the ones who call you names, shame you, compare you, doubt you will always be watching from the side-lines – show up and do your thing anyway! Remember, you don’t have to be interested in what they have to say!
...The value of the Engaged Feedback checklist – I wonder whether my conversation with Tim would have been any different if we had sat “on the same side of the table” and approached the issue together?
...Using the list when receiving feedback too – both of us listening, asking questions and ensuring we understand each other may have made the outcome happier?
...Being willing to own my part? Maybe knowing whether I am in the right head and heart space to receive that feedback and being brave by asking to postpone it until I am in a better place?
...Remembering that we grow when we are outside of our comfort zones, and sometimes we need someone, a trusted someone, to give us a little nudge!
I wonder how our conversations and opportunities to give and receive feedback could be improved simply by “sitting on the same side of the table” as our family, friends, work colleagues and peers; at home, in our workplaces or our schools...
After-note: I asked my lovely man to read this blog before I published it as I wanted to make sure he was happy with me discussing a personal event in public (he was apart from me using his name!). After he read it, we sat together on the same side of the sofa(!) and he gave me his feedback. It was still tough to be on the receiving end, even though everything he had to say was good but I know, given time, it will get easier and we will get better at exchanging our thoughts!
For the Engaged Feedback Checklist – click on https://brenebrown.com/downloads/
Considering Coaching? Visit me at www.the-old-farmhouse.com
Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, USA: Penguin.