Navigating the Fine Line on Feedback

Navigating Feedback

We underestimate the power feedback has on us. On one hand, it's useful to learn what others think and how they view our work, on the other, we should not become too attached to what other people say. One set of guideposts is to consider the character and care of the person providing it, and our relationship with them.

“The dilemma is that when we don't care at all about what anyone thinks, we lose our capacity for connection, Which automatically opts us out of the many joys of life,” says researcher and storyteller Brené Brown.

There's one notable passage on page seven of the 35-page Citizenship in a Republic speech former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne, Paris on April 23, 1910 that has become well-know. It's dubbed The Man in the Arena and it's a good reminder about the power and virtue of showing up, of being personally engaged with our own act of creation. 

It reads:

“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.”

Says Brown, “most of us steamroll over the people whose opinion should matter to get acceptance and approval from people who should not matter at all.” One of the reasons why we do that is that we often confuse values with goals—they are not the same, so we should treat the feedback we receive accordingly.

Russ Harris helps us understand the differences in The Happiness Trap. Harris is a physician and therapist who specializes in stress management and is known internationally by his use of ACT techniques to train individuals and health professionals to deal with it, overcome fear, and create a rich and meaningful life.

“Emotions are like the weather,” says Harris. Our feelings may end up controlling our behavior and overwhelm our ability to reason and appreciate the actual facts. We see reality through the filter of our own perception, and when emotions run high we may lose the ability to think critically.

A first step we can take in learning to navigate the fine line on receiving feedback effectively is by understanding the difference between values and goals. Harris says:

It's important to recognize that values are not the same as goals. A value is a direction we desire to keep moving in, an ongoing process that never reaches an end. For example, the desire to be a loving and caring partner is a value. It's ongoing for the rest of your life. The moment you stop being loving and caring, you are no longer living that value.

A goal is a desired outcome that can be achieved or completed. For example, the desire to get married is a goal. Once achieved, it's done and can be crossed off the list. Once you're married, you're married, whether you're loving and kind, or hard-headed and uncaring.

So a value is like heading west. No matter how far you travel, there's always farther west you can go Whereas the goal is the like mountain or river you wish to cross on your journey. Once you've gone over it, it's a “done deal.”

So if we want to apply ourselves more fully to our work, that is a value independent of the type of job we have.

Applying this distinction to receiving feedback, a first step in acceptance is becoming more skilled at telling apart the goal-based from the value-based assessment helps us with being open to the review of others.

A second step is making the commitment to draw the distinction between fact-based and opinion-based judgement. This involves more self-awareness on our part, and observation—are we trying to win someone else's approval? Is this creating the perception in us that we're not masters of our own destiny?

Letting go of our desires for approval, accepting what is going on help us refocus on what matters to us, our direction, which is based on our values. This is how we know who is in the arena with us and who isn't.

As for receiving feedback on goals, we have the option to take a hard stand on issues by not being so attached to the outcomes we envisioned. When we keep an open mind, we're engaging our critical thinking and may access even greater opportunities.