More than 20 years ago, I stood at my work mailbox, retrieved a page of meeting minutes, and stopped in my tracks.
Someone had inadvertently shared the minutes of a meeting to which I was not invited, one in which people shared candid feedback about my performance. It wasn’t positive. I was never meant to see it. But I did.
That was the most painful feedback I’ve ever received, and likely the most candid, because though it represented truth as those attending the meeting saw it, it did not represent truth the individuals would have used in speaking to me directly.
Remembering those moments, I picture myself: young, learning, vulnerable. And crushed by the committee’s assessment of my performance. Was the feedback accurate? Likely, yes. Presented kindly? Certainly not.
To be clear, the minutes ended up in my mailbox by mistake, not malice. I’m not sure in what manner the committee would have chosen to present their feedback, but I would like to think they would have translated their feedback in a much different way.
My anger, my tears, the pain, the disappointment: all might have been experienced much differently with well-timed, well-presented feedback, especially if delivered by someone with an attitude of support for my personal and professional growth.
Well-timed, well-presented feedback is a gift. I received a gift of feedback recently from a trusted friend and client. Were her words hard to hear? Yes. Were there tears? Yes.
The difference between the two incidents of receiving feedback centers on the relationship. Before picking up the phone to have that conversation, my friend carefully considered how to share her feedback. She considered our relationship, anticipated the way I would receive the feedback, and shared it anyway — honestly, kindly, and openly. Her sharing opened the door for healing and growth.
Difficult feedback doesn’t have to be painful, but it does have to be carefully presented, directly discussed, and openly received.