I keep a folder in OneNote with testimonials and other nice words people have offered me over the years. Though I don’t look at it often, it feels good to know it’s there and warms me whenever I happen upon it and give it a quick scan.
I couldn’t tell you a word of what’s in there. I just know it’s lovely.
All things considered, I’ve gotten a fraction of negative feedback as compared to the positive stuff. Recently, though, a person who presumably believed I wasn’t privy to the evaluation wrote that I don’t know the definition of the word professionalism, I dress like a lollipop, I speak like a dog’s squeaky toy, and there’s no chance I have anything of value to offer this person.
I don’t have the evaluation in front of me; the above is from memory.
Reflection 1: I have hoarded every word of this mean-spirited feedback while allowing the kind words to gather quietly like little shadows in the back of my mind.
A relevant bit of additional information: This evaluation was written after a phone call that lasted less than a minute, and a LinkedIn connection. That was quite literally the entirety of the contact.
Reflection 2: That feedback was not about me. It was about the person who left it.
A precious teenager in my life, upon hearing this story, said, “Sarah, you do dress like a lollipop!” It was a compliment, a reflection that couples with other feedback she’s given me that she loves my quirky ways and style.
Now, it’s become a warm joke among my closest circle. For example, my sister sent me this picture just hours after hearing the story:
Our most primitive minds have a ton of neural wiring to collect negative information. It was honed through tens of thousands of years of self-protection. Unfortunately, that wiring can’t distinguish between info that lets us know we’re in physical danger and info that just hurts our feelings. We gather it all as though it’s similar in value.
Happily, we also have more recent (in evolutionary terms) additions to our brains that allows us to sort out one type of negative info from the other, and to discern whether feedback is of the useful, constructive variety, or the useless, critical variety. The trick – and challenge – is pausing to activate that part of our brains.
That pause can be greatly aided by reaching out to a straight-shooting yet kind friend. I highly recommend a bright, thoughtful teenager if one is within your circle.