A few years ago, I was speaking at my broker-dealer's national conference. My topic was productivity. I had some success that year with changes I had made in managing our overall business and my tax and financial practice. My talk was about those tools, resulting breakthroughs, and practical application. In fact, it was the original basis for the techniques I teach in my coaching practice today.
After my session, I got a lot of positive feedback on the content. People asked questions and seemed interested in how they might apply the principles and tools. My husband had been in the audience, and he was listening to people talk as they exited the room. He is fiercely loyal and protective, so he was upset to hear one of our colleagues say that I must not do many tax returns anymore if I ran my practice the way I claimed. My husband knows I still review over 500 tax returns each year during tax season, so he wanted to set the record straight, sweet man that he is.
How often does it happen? You take an action that brings on lots of praise and accolades, and then you hear the lone voice of dissent. And you start to question the value you brought to the situation.
It is easy to get caught up in what went "wrong." However, negative feedback can be an essential way to expedite growth, both personally and professionally.
I am not saying to make changes to try to please all the haters. There must be criteria you apply to the feedback to process its validity. Otherwise, the action you take based on the input is just people-pleasing.
When my husband mentioned the comment he overheard, I ran it through my feedback filter.
1) Did I know and value the source of the feedback?
No. Had the person come to me to ask a question about my practice size or how I used the tools I was teaching, I would have happily engaged in dialogue. I would be open and willing to learn why he didn't think my methods would work in his practice. However, second-hand comments from an unknown audience member don't meet this test.
2) Do I feel defensive?
In this case, I did not. However, there are many times where my instinctive response was defensiveness. If I feel defensive, it means I believe there is truth in the comment. When my walls go up, my ability to look at the feedback objectively goes down. Then step 3 becomes impossible.
3) Could I learn anything from the feedback?
Again, not in this instance. This person simply made an untrue assumption. There was no reason for me to be upset or hurt by the comment. However, if I was only reviewing 50 tax returns instead of 500, I could have questioned if my methods would work with someone with a larger practice. I would approach the feedback from a place of curiosity rather than defensiveness. I might test my methods with clients with larger practices and find some things needed to change depending on practice size. In this way, the input becomes a platform for new growth.
4) Is there anything I would change based on the feedback?
Change only comes after the careful evaluation above. This shift is not people pleasing, but using outside feedback to create a better product or process because I see the value of the change.
Now, I want to be clear, my immediate response to criticism is not joyful exploration. I am nearly always embarrassed or ashamed that I may have gotten something wrong, and I want to hide. It is not natural for me to let it roll off my back. My past default response would be to agree with whatever was said publically, then complain and blame privately. As I grow into an emotional adult, I am learning to listen with an open mind and an open heart. I am brave enough to ask questions and be curious. In this way, I am open to the wisdom of others. When I can receive what others have to give, I get to learn from their experience, as well as my own. Growth exponentially accelerates when I allow others in instead of shutting them out.