Over the years, a lot of people have come to me for counsel. I once had a dear friend who called me his best friend, but he was very negative. I had been trying to help him with that, but I wasn’t getting very far.
An Important Conversation
As we were having coffee one morning, I looked him square in the eye and said, “Do you believe I love you?”
“Absolutely. I believe that,” he replied.
“So, may I give you some feedback?” I asked.
“Yes, you may.”
I asked, “Is there anything I can’t say?”
“Absolutely not. You may say whatever you want.”
I said, “Brother, the truth is you are Eeyore. You are a downer. You empty my tank. You drain me when we’re together. And the reason you drain me is that you ask for counsel, but you don’t use any of it. Your marriage isn’t any better, your relationships aren’t any better with your kids, and I can’t do this anymore. So, I can’t keep meeting and giving you counsel if you’re not going to take the counsel and if you’re always going to drain my tank.”
He started crying and just wept. He said, “No one has ever said that to me before.”
I said, “I have news for you. If you’ll go ask your wife and your children, they’ll confirm it. And if they confirm it, the question then is, ‘Are you willing to change.’”
“If I am, can we keep meeting together?” he asked.
Absolutely. “I said. “But, if you don’t, I’m done with giving you feedback and counsel. We can be great friends, but don’t ask for counsel anymore.”
The very next meeting we had, the first thing he did was to start asking me about my wife, my children, and our company. He wanted to know how we were doing. He had made significant changes in his attitude. Since then, I have received thanks from his wife, his children, and his friends.
Even through negative feedback, when it is done with humility, love, truth, and forgiveness, we can make a positive impact on people’s lives because all personal feedback is relevant.
All Feedback Is Relevant
Research shows that once our self-identities have become set, they’re extremely difficult to change. Later, if we get feedback that is already consistent with what we ourselves perceive to be our identity, that feedback goes right in and builds on top of what we already believe about ourselves. And if we get feedback that we don’t believe, we tend to reject it.
While all personal feedback is not true, I believe all personal feedback is relevant. It’s important to be open to feedback you may not believe to be true just in case it is true. This applies to both positive and negative feedback. Personal feedback is relevant to your relationship with the person who is giving the feedback. The feedback given could determine whether you want to stay in relationship with that person or not.
Feedback also reveals your character. If someone was driving down the road and shouted out something offensive to you, your response to that feedback, whether positive or negative, would say something about your character. It will also make a profound impression on your children or others who might see your response.
As transformational leaders, our response to personal feedback could determine the level of influence that we might have with someone.
Interpreting Feedback Constructively
Sometimes, the hardest feedback to receive could be that which is shared between a husband and wife. During the time when I was struggling in our marriage, we went to a marriage conference. I wanted help, and I didn’t know where else to go.
At this conference, they told us to tell our spouse one thing we wanted them to change about themselves. My lovely bride looked at me and said, ‘I want you to lose some weight.” I had put on about sixty pounds during that season of frequent traveling. Because of the poor condition of my self-identity at the time, what I heard was, “You’re fat and ugly, and I don’t want to be with you.”
But what she really meant was, “I love you, I want you to be healthy, and I don’t want you to die at an early age.”
Why did I interpret what she said so negatively? As a child, I was an overweight, fat boy, and I was teased about being overweight. I had been sexually abused. How did I cope with that abuse? I ate. Later, I lost the weight, but then put it back on due to the frequent travel and stress. When my wife said, “I want you to lose some weight,” I heard something very different from what she had actually said.
If our self-identities are messed up, we may reject essential feedback, get angry, and let that epinephrine kick in that prevents us from processing information calmly and rationally because, to our minds, we heard something very different than what the other person had actually said. However, my wife’s feedback was highly relevant even though my epinephrine went up and I responded in a negative way. But now, because I made some personal decisions about receiving feedback from her and others, she can give me feedback. Now, I know she’s doing it because she cares about me. I decided that I preferred to hear her negative feedback because it helped open up important conversations with us that we would never have been able to have had I persisted in resisting anything negative from her or someone I loved.
We might never hear what we need to hear if we aren’t willing to offer and receive personal feedback. When we speak the truth in love, both positive and negative feedback is important, both for the one giving it to speak it and for the one receiving it to receive it. As transformational leaders, we need to be able to hear both positive and negative feedback.
Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.