The Problem with Feedback

The other day I got my student feedback from a course I teach each semester on Managing without Authority for a local university.

I opened it up, excited to see what the students said, and my eyes were drawn to the one respondent that disagreed the course was valuable, and also disagreed I was knowledgeable.  In the free form feedback it said:

“Too much reliance on students and not the teacher. We spent more time talking in groups than being provided real insight on managing without authority. If we asked a question, it was not answered and instead thrown on the class to answer.”

My heart sank.  And the mind monkey took off.  I’d been outed.  Because when I look deep at my own inner saboteurs, the one that screams the most is “You don’t know enough.”

We Fixate on the Negative Feedback

So that comment really stung.  I’ve often noticed this tendency in life, where we humble human beings fall into negative confirmation bias.  We look for the things that confirm our worst fears.  Our worst fears are then confirmed, and we fixate on it.  Never mind the 18 other people that strongly agreed that the course was valuable.  Never mind the copious comments on how engaging the course was, how much they liked the case studies, my humor, the breakout groups.  Never mind that these 18 thought I was knowledgeable.  In that moment none of it mattered.  This one individual in the six years I’d been teaching for this institution had finally seen the truth of me.  The game was up.

Unfortunately, I had opened this email in the middle of an important 3 day meeting I was participating in.  And then I cursed myself for opening something that could be potentially triggering at a moment I needed to concentrate most.  It took some effort, but I managed to steer myself back into the meeting and reground myself.  Yay for mindfulness techniques!  I spent a few moments practicing some deep breathing, focusing with my eyes on a few objects in my office that bring me joy and are beautiful to look at.  Slowly but surely the dissonance faded away and I regained my composure.

When will we be enough?

But it got me thinking…it’s interesting this tendency we have to need to prove ourselves.  We obsess about the big presentation that’s coming up, how we must be prepared and have the answer to every potential question under the sun that might be asked.  We stress about the quality of our work.  Is it good enough?  Will people think that I’m credible and I know what I’m talking about?  We stress about the quarterly performance review; will I be rated above average or exceptional?  And what does it mean if I’m not?

But here’s the bottom line – When do we get to enjoy things?  When we know enough?  Because that’s a fool’s game.  Enough is never enough because there’s always something new to prove, someone new to impress, another hurdle we have to jump over.  We chase our tails hoping to impress, hoping to be enough just to chase them again the next day.

I’ve realized something.  I’ve realized that the truth of who I am as a teacher and facilitator is in what all 19 participants had to say.  All 19, including the negative feedback.  It’s a beautiful story no matter how you look at it.  It’s a compelling story.

What are your feedback tendencies?

Think about your own tendencies when it comes to feedback.  Do you focus on the one negative thing and ignore all the things that are going well?  Do you get overly defensive because you’re worried deep down this is how people really see you?  What would change if you could hold the space for the positive as well as the negative?  How would that change how you experience work and life?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

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