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Getting Feedback Isn’t Fun

19 July 2016

Barbara read Leadership Means Learning to Look Behind the Mask in The New York Times by Barbara Mistick and was reminded of the importance (and unpleasantness) of asking for feedback.

Tags: barbara read, communication, courage, leadership, writing

I think most of us would say we want to do better in our jobs and our relationships but also have an inner, private voice that says, “This is who I am. I want to be myself and people should accept me as I am. I don’t want to change my behavior—talk less, talk more, be kinder, be more courageous.” We don’t even want to be told what we should do more of or less of. No one likes hearing what they are doing wrong or what is not working. We crave positive feedback but often choose to not hear or absorb negative feedback even though we rationally know it’s the feedback we need to do better.

In Leadership Means Learning to Look Behind the Mask, Barbara Mastick explains that she wanted information about how she was doing when she became the new president and director of Andrew Carnegie’s public library system in Pittsburgh. She was the first non-librarian to hold the position. She asked for feedback but was pretty sure she was not getting honest answers. For ten years public funding for the library had been cut and service hours reduced, so people were afraid they would lose their jobs.

She finally started asking people to fill out a 360-degree management assessment tool and got the information she needed to support her personal change as a leader. However, she realized 360-feedback didn’t provide her with much macro-level feedback about the system so she implemented a, “…wiki allowing any employee in the system to comment on the library’s services in real time. We also asked the community for feedback on our organizational goals. I read every one of the thousands of pages submitted. The insights I gained about the role of the library were tremendously important as we reinvented the system to serve our community’s needs.”

Six years later Mastick moved on to become president of Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. As she was leaving the library, she did something revolutionary that made her feel very vulnerable. She asked people how she could have done better in the beginning of her time there. Because she was heading out the door, they were honest. “While there were a few themes that emerged, the biggest one was that people wished they had had a chance to get to know me personally before I charged into the work.” The feedback hurt, but it helped her in her new position.

I’m in a writing class where I receive feedback every week. After the first class I said to myself, "I am not going back." I also told my son who is a runner. He said, “Mama, I’m in a running group. Every person there is faster than I am. The only way I’ll get faster is to stay with them.” So I’ve been going to class for four years. Sometimes I feel awful when I drive home at 9:30pm, but by the next day, when I listen to the recording of the class on my computer, I can begin to make changes that improve the piece I read out loud in class.

What are you doing to get honest feedback that will help you improve? It won’t feel good in the moment, but it could help you get to where you want to be.


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Natalie Brown
Jul 19, 2016

Whew… all true. Feedback (as most other types of growth) is uncomfortable and at times even hurtful. So grateful for those who are brave enough to provide that discomfort/hurt, though.

Allison Partners
Jul 22, 2016

So true, Natalie! We’re also grateful for those who are brave enough to hear the feedback and work through the discomfort and hurt. May we all be able to courageously give and receive the feedback that’s needed to improve our relationships and organizations.


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