November 22, 2002

Letting Go Ain’t All That Easy

Letting Go Ain’t All That Easy

No two ways about it. I got slammed this week. Ripped by one participant in one session.

Of the thousands of people who have evaluated my work this year, the intensity of this one person’s negative feedback puts him/her in a relatively small group … thankfully. And for this particular session, this one person’s critique is really a speck of feedback that I should be able to flick off my shoulder like a piece of lint.

What is it about negative feedback that makes its voice sometimes ring so much more loudly than praise?

At least I know I am not alone in experiencing some difficulty with letting go of criticism. Perhaps you, too, can get a bit too focused on the observations or thoughts of one or more people who see things differently than those offering you positive feedback.

It’s not that I believe I am as incompetent as this person’s feedback would lead me to believe. I know my craft reasonably well and continue to refine and enhance it with each and every effort I make. That’s why participant feedback is so important to me, and why I spend so much time trying to reflect on the participants’ perspective when reviewing their comments. This type of feedback is what will allow me to do better the next time around.

And maybe that’s why this one individual’s comments have me so temporarily distracted: I'm struggling to learn anything from them.

They are not particularly constructive in terms of what I could have done better. In fact, they border on being simply destructive about my work, my character, and me. So many of the perceptions are offered almost as universal truth. In reality, they are one person’s truth alone. The other positive comments directly contradicting this person’s perceptions attest to that.

Negative feedback is great if it gives us something to work with. But in this case, I’m finding it difficult to locate what I can learn from this person’s caustic comments. I assume both positive and negative comments are offered to be helpful for future planning and for the growth and development of those being evaluated. Maybe that’s not as safe an assumption as I would like to believe it is.

Why is it tough to let go? Perhaps it is because I don’t think this person was really trying to help me with this feedback. We get so few chances in life to offer relative strangers information that might make a difference in their efforts and here is one that I feel was somewhat wasted.

I think this person has a different belief system about how to do the work we discussed in this session. And that’s fine. I frequently mention in sessions that if folks find value in my perspective, “great,” and if they don’t, they aren’t obligated to make it their own.

If only this person had been more direct during the session in a helpful way; i.e., “Jeffrey, I have a very different take on what we are talking about here and I wonder if you and the group would give me a few minutes to explain my alternative perspective.” Collectively, we could then have tried to create our own understanding from the various perspectives allowed to co-exist simultaneously in the room.

But instead, this person is right and I must be wrong as evidenced by my punishment enacted via the evaluation form. And the 30 or so folks involved in this session may have missed a prime learning opportunity.

Why is it tough to let go? Because this probably happens far too often, to far too many people than I would care to believe. And that makes me sad. Because I’m not sure anyone leaves this situation being better off for having experienced it.


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