Feedback| A Vital Part of Growth

Cover photo by Angelo Carniato on Unsplash

Whether we like it or not we constantly receive feedback and it can come in many forms. Feedback can be solicited where we invite feedback from a colleague, friend, family member or partner. Feedback can be uninvited too. Someone who is unhappy with something we’ve done or not done might let us know in no uncertain terms why they’re upset without being asked. The universe also sends us feedback. An unsuccessful job interview, lack of career momentum; a car breakdown or a significant health event are all examples of universal feedback. However it comes, the million-dollar question is are we open to the feedback or do we resist it? Do we become angry or blame others when we receive unwanted feedback, or do we accept the feedback and resolve to do something about it?

Seeking feedback is being responsible

Simply put, seeking feedback is about being 100% responsible for the outcomes in our life. Rather than accept we are powerless to change our circumstances, we can choose to take full responsibility to create new outcomes. Asking ourselves what could we do differently to cause different outcomes is the first step. Being more proactive we might seek feedback from others. However, feedback alone won’t make any difference. As UK psychologist and author Alex Howard says “knowledge is nice, but only action creates change.” Therefore, we need to choose a new course of action, implement and monitor for improvement to evaluate its effectiveness, rinse and repeat. We seek more feedback, choose, implement and monitor new action. This cycle repeats for as long as we want to grow and develop ourselves. In this sense this is what being responsible is: to continuously seek feedback and implement changes to create the life we want rather than be at the effect of others or a victim of circumstances.

We can control how we respond

Another way to look at responsibility is our ability to respond. We cannot control everything that happens to us, however, we can control how we respond. This sentiment is perfectly captured by the words of Victor Frankl, who had been a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, tortured repeatedly and endured some of the most horrific things that can happen to a person: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is my power to choose my response”.

Because no one can take away our power to choose how we respond, in being responsible lies our greatest freedom and greatest power to create the life we want. Rather than blame someone else when stuff happens to us, the responsible thing is to change what I do to transform the situation. I love this quote from Ragnar Lothbruk in the Netflix series, Vikings: “power is only available to those who lower themselves to pick it up.” Yes, power is available to us however, we have to be willing to humble ourselves enough to take on the responsibility. To seek feedback from someone else requires courage and humility and it’s essential for our growth and being responsible.

Feather… Brick… Truck!!!

On the flipside, not being responsible often leads to unsolicited and unwanted feedback. The interesting thing is the message usually comes with more intensity each time. Feedback, like problem solving, is progressive. The first warnings (feedback) we get are usually subtle, and light as a feather and easily missed. Then it comes more like a brick, much harder to miss and it hurts a lot more. If we ignore the brick, then finally we get hit by the proverbial truck.

Photo by Julien I on Unsplash

Think about your health. What might start as a niggle can develop into an injury and eventually into a major crisis. The same is true with relationship issues. First comes a complaint “I don’t like how you speak to me.” Then comes the arguments and fights. Finally, comes the dreaded “I’m leaving.” Being responsible and taking quick action when we receive the early warnings is the best way to prevent an issue becoming a catastrophe. Conversely, a failure to heed the early signs usually ends with disastrous consequences that were avoidable.

Feedback raises our awareness

All feedback, whether invited or unsolicited, increases our awareness. As mentioned earlier, although it may be difficult to hear or acknowledge, feedback leaves us with a choice. Do we take the feedback on board and do something about it or ignore it and risk the matter escalating? This is where responsibility comes into it. How will I respond? Our growth depends on increasing our awareness and feedback is essential to this.

Several years ago some personal development I did involved asking colleagues what their earliest impressions of me were. I was told things like “scary”, “angry” “stay away from him” and so on. Frankly, I was shocked. This was feedback from colleagues I considered friends with whom I had good relationships. I was in my mid-forties and it was the first time I’d ever been told things like this. Full disclosure here: it was the first time I’d asked too. They all shared a similar story. Once they came to know me, they realised I was very friendly, loyal and as one friend put it, I had “a heart of gold”. I dug deeper and came to learn I have a version of “RBFS or Resting Bitch Face Syndrome.” When I’m in my head thinking about something my face can appear scary or angry to others. This is not the impression I want to leave with people especially when I first meet them. Now, when I met people, I make sure to smile plenty and I’ve been told I have a great smile (positive feedback). When I run a workshop, to avoid potentially upsetting participants, I often explain my RBFS – “I’m not angry, it’s the way I look when I’m focused.” The point here is I took the feedback and did something proactive about it.

Feedback requires being open and willing to receive contribution

In a related article I shared contribution has two parts: 1) being willing to contribute to others and 2) allowing others to contribute to us. Most of us get the first part about being a contribution. After all we are typically raised to help and be of service to others. However, receiving contribution from others is often something that’s less familiar and we struggle more with. Delegating tasks and taking feedback are classic examples of receiving and allowing contribution from others and we need both to build great relationships and teamwork.

Ignorance is bliss

Unless we know something, we can’t do anything it about it. There is comfort in not knowing some things. However, without discomfort there is no growth. What’s our incentive to change and grow if we feel comfortable? Doing something differently to what we’ve always done is uncomfortable and it’s what we need to grow. To do something differently starts by knowing what we usually do. This requires feedback and being aware. It is not to make ourselves wrong, rather it is simply to acknowledge where we’re at. Becoming more aware years ago I realised a lot of my communication was either aggressive or passive-aggressive e.g., sarcastic. Neither work in relationships. Becoming more aware is not to beat myself up for being aggressive or sarcastic but to learn more effective ways to communicate assertively. Awareness is the catalyst for change. Feedback makes us more aware. Increasing awareness worked for me and it will work for you too.