So you are working on speaking up more. Or you are dreaming about launching that new business, or nonprofit, or artistic venture. Or you are just trying to be more of your real deal self and share what is on your mind.
In some way, you are fighting the everyday fight to step into playing a little bit bigger – because you want the joy of it and you want to do some good in this world.
I bow to that. I’m proud of you.
We need to talk about feedback — feedback in the broadest sense. Not just the kind of feedback you get in annual “feedback conversations” at work, or when someone says, “Um, can I give you some feedback?” I mean all kinds of feedback. The feedback that shows up in how many comments you get on a blog post, or in how many people buy what you are selling. The feedback that shows up in how many job interviews you get called in for – and how many companies ignore your resumé. The feedback that shows up when you say something in a meeting and it is met with awkward silence – or when you say something and everyone responds with agreement and excitement.
If you are playing bigger, if you are sharing your voice, you are going to get more feedback that feels high stakes because it is feedback on the real, emerging, tender you.
This is hard.
We are tender. The toughest among us are even more tender, underneath our thick skin. We are afraid of finding out we aren’t good enough. We are afraid of finding out we are more than good enough, so good that there is no reason to keep stalling, perfecting, preparing – that it is actually time to just step onto the big stage now. What if that is true? Ack!
So I want to offer you a mega-concept shift, a whole new way of thinking about feedback that has allowed feedback to serve me (instead of scare me). It allows me to even seek out feedback. While I can’t say I now love getting feedback and enjoy it as much as an ice cream sundae…this makes it tolerable to get it. Note: this way of looking at feedback is one of the few useful things I learned in business school, and now, I share it with you (and you don’t even have to pay the $70k tuition).
FEEDBACK DOES NOT TELL YOU ABOUT YOU. IT TELLS YOU ABOUT THE PERSON GIVING THE FEEDBACK.
Let’s let that sink in. FEEDBACK DOES NOT TELL YOU ABOUT YOU. IT TELLS YOU ABOUT THE PERSON GIVING THE FEEDBACK.
If you show your memoir to a writing group, and three people say it’s boring, what does that really tell you? It tells you about what those people find boring. Does it give you any facts about the quality of your writing? Does it reveal any truths about your potential and merit as an artist? Nope. The only fact you have is about what these three people find boring. But what if tons of people think it’s boring? If you show your memoir to a million people, and all of them say it’s boring, that still does not tell you anything about you. It tells you about what audiences find boring.
If you pitch your idea to a venture capital firm and they aren’t interested, that tells you something about what they get interested in and what they don’t. It does not actually tell you anything about you or your idea.
But stay with me for part two of the idea here, because part two is very important. I’m not arguing that feedback should be ignored because it doesn’t tell you anything about you. No no no no no. No! I’m a huge proponent of gathering, listening to and incorporating feedback. It is vital.
Here’s the difference: in this new paradigm, we seek out feedback not because it tells us about our own value or merit, but because it tells us whether we are reaching the people we need to reach in the way we want to. If that entrepreneur wants her pitch to be effective with venture investors, she needs to know what speaks to them. If that memoirist wants her work to be read widely, she needs to know what keeps a reader engaged. Most of us want to reach and influence other people with our work, our ideas. Usually, we need (or want) to reach particular people or particular types of people. We want to influence them in particular ways.
As writers, we want the reader to learn and to enjoy. As entrepreneurs, we want the investor to invest, or the customer to buy. As healers, coaches, therapists, we want to do work that actually heals and transforms. Feedback tells us about what is working and not for the particular people we want to reach. It gives us insight into them, not into ourselves.
When I write a post and no one comments, shares it on social media, or writes to me about it, I could conclude that I wrote “a bad post” or that I am a failure. Or I could use that as an opportunity to learn something about my audience – to glean an insight about what helps a post make an impact for them. The first line of thinking will send me into an unhelpful self-obsessing spiral. The second will help me improve my craft.
Feedback doesn’t tell you whether you are good enough or not. Whether your ideas have merit or not. Whether you are gloriously worthy or worthless. It is not meant to give you self-esteem boosts or wounds. It gives you tactical information about how to reach who you want to reach.
Feedback is emotionally neutral information that tell us what sings to our audience, what resonates for them, what communicates clearly, what engages the people we want to engage.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Big love, big hugs, big appreciation to all of you.
photo credit: Kelly Sikkema