Do you want to hear what people are saying about you?
Wow, this is a tough one, isn't? On one hand, we want confirmation that we are on the right path, that we are doing the right things, that we are saying the right things, etc. On the other hand, feedback can sometimes be tough to take. If, for example, it is unexpected or unsolicited or even disconcerting, it can be a little painful to take.
What about not getting that job that you wanted?
What about having a significant other leave you?
What about a friend losing touch with you?
When I was a principal in Florida, we conducted "climate surveys" every year. Parents would fill out surveys on how well they felt we were doing as a school---questions pertaining to academics, how the front office staff made them feel, how they felt their children were treated by the staff, how they felt I was doing as a school leader, etc. Of course, we wanted, hoped, and prayed that 100% of our parents would feel like we were doing a 100% job well done. But that isn't life, is it? It is a universal truth, I believe, that many people who fill out surveys only do so when they are disgruntled. Have you done the same thing? If everything was great with customer service at an establishment, you ignore the request to fill out the feedback form. But by golly, if you had a problem, that company is going to hear about it. Blessedly, our climate surveys showed that our parents were almost always very satisfied with what was going on at our elementary school. We typically received about a 60 - 75% response rate (which is what you expect, even if you invite people to a wedding or party) and the satisfaction, overall, with our performance was always in the upper 90th percentile. Amazing, right? We certainly felt so. However, I would obsess on the few that we would get back that wrote comments about feeling I was unapproachable ("What?! Everyone approaches me! How can you say that?!" I would think to myself), feeling the teachers gave too much homework ("Who does that? They are almost always quite cognizant of the limitations of work at home!"), feeling someone in the front office was curt ("What?! We have the best office staff EVER!"), and on and on it would go. The problem was that I was focusing on about 10 surveys out of about 250 - 300 that were filled out. Such is my obsession.
Fast forward to today, when I now do professional learning for teachers, administrators, and university faculty around the world, along with teaching graduate and doctoral classes for different universities. All of the participants/attendees/students are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of our time together (whether that is for 3 hours or a semester). I am quite pleased to say that, typically, about 90 - 95% of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, I hyper-focus on the 5% (or even the ONE person) who say(s) anything negative. In one workshop I taught a few years ago, the one negative comment was, "You should serve Starbucks coffee instead of the stuff that was served." Ummm....I don't make the coffee; the catering staff did, and what in the name of Labrador love do I have to do with the coffee? I am here to teach! Along the same lines, I had a graduate student who wrote, "Dr. Arneson grades like she is married to the rubrics." Ummm...did you miss the wedding announcement? Wait what? Married to the rubrics? No. But do I follow them pretty explicitly when I grade? Yes, and you should, too, if you teach.
Fast forward even further to this week, when most of my workshop participants answered "agree" or "strongly agree" to every question asked on the evaluation form. But one commented, "The presenter talks a lot". You caught me. I do. This one hit home, and I will admit that is one of my growth areas---filling in space with words, even when silence is perfectly acceptable. I tell what I think are funny one-liners that go along with the content, but not everyone wants to hear that. While two people stayed after one of my workshops to tell me that they appreciate (in a workshop that was 3 hours long and late in the afternoon/evening) how my sense of humor and my silly jokes kept them engaged the whole time, apparently I am not everyone's cup of tea, and some people would rather me simply press forward with the workshop content than to make a joke or embellish on a point I'm making with a specific anecdote or example.
Let's review: 90% are completed satisfied, with even a few raving about how much they learned and how it energized their practice; one said I talk a lot. What do I obsess on? The one! It reminds me of when I was a principal and read that the 5% of problems take up 95% of our time. But that, my friends, is a choice. I can choose to focus on the one or two comments that don't rave about my hard work, or I can file those comments in the back of my head (maybe even keeping it in mind when next I present as something to note) and rest my head easily on my pillow at night at the knowledge of a job well done (by myself but also particularly by the participants themselves).
Feedback is important; of that, there is no doubt. How do you take it in? How do you process it? In what ways do you allow it to grow your practice? In what ways do you keep from obsessing over it? There is a great saying that goes, "I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex", and I think this is so true for me, at times. I either am confident I can do something or I don't believe I can do it at all. Finding that accurate balance is the great goal in my life.
I hope and pray that you are able to find it as well.