I did something potentially regret-worthy.
I let them see it, read it and tell me what they thought about it.
I’ve been posting publicly for a while now. Just weeks ago, publishing professionals affirmed, endorsed, and invested in my work. Why was asking friends to read and give feedback the scariest part of this process?
A close friend of mine says when you write a piece, it’s like birthing a baby. You engage. You work. You’re proud. And the result is cute…and slightly awkward. There’s accomplishment. And uncertainty. And vulnerability.
So – while it was nerve-wracking to deliver my manuscript to authors, agents, and editors – inviting friends into the process was (and is) terrifying.
I asked for feedback from a handful of folks who represented my would-be readers. I wanted extra eyes on my words – words that are well-worn paths in my brain. I can’t read them with fresh eyes.
With trembling hands, I reached out. Asked for eyes and minutes. Asked folks to sacrifice their scarce time to invest in my dreams.
As soon as the comment notifications popped up, I froze.
Am I ready for this? Am I ready to hear what these dear friends might not like? Am I ready to have them correct my grammar, punctuation and word-choice? Am I ready for their reactions? What if they hate it?
I’m sure harder days are coming. (But – whew – so far, so good.)
There were suggestions and comments I took in and set aside. But most comments hit the nail on the head. Comments pointing out phrases and ideas that just didn’t work. Most of them were phrases and ideas I felt 80% about when I self-edited. I filled in the final 20% with “good enough” and moved on. These friend-readers are pushing me to reject laziness, boredom, giving up, and complacency. They are pushing me to make it work. To take it the final 20%.
That’s feedback. The chance to take things the final 20%. The 20% you can’t go alone.
From where I stand, feedback needs 5 things.
Back when restaurants had smoking sections, Dennis and I dined in a (now-closed – ha!) establishment. The manager stopped at our table to ask about our dining experience. She’d expected a “great!” but instead got a long pause, an “actually…,” and some negative feedback. She looked shell-shocked. Turns out her invitation for feedback was a courtesy. She wasn’t actually inviting us into the improvement process.
My writing won’t improve in a vacuum. On my own, it can go only so far.
The same is true for all areas of life. If I want to grow as a person and improve in any realm, I need to involve others. I need to invite feedback.
Ask a trusted friend what my Achilles’s Heel might be. Ask a co-worker or a supervisor about my blind spots. Ask my children what they see as my biggest problems. Take my skills and put them in a format to receive constructive criticism. Invite it.
But it doesn’t stop at invitation.
Most people give feedback at the drop of the hat. You’ll have “what do you think of-” still warm on your tongue before someone tells you the 18 things they’ve read about, heard about, or thought about the scenario at hand. Everyone has ideas and opinions. And everyone likes to be heard.
But not everyone’s feedback is appropriate. Some folks have no credibility to speak into something. Lack of expertise, context, relationship, or empathy.
Brene Brown speaks of “sitting on the same side of the table” in a feedback situation. Whether this is physically or just figuratively, if someone sits beside me while providing feedback – they intend to be part of the process, they’re in it for the long-haul, and they recognize my vulnerability.
Feedback coming from the wrong place is unsafe and should be taken with the largest grain of salt you can find. Invited feedback in a safe relationship needs three postures: humility, confidence, and intention.
What is feedback if it lands on deaf ears? When I ask for feedback, am I fishing for compliments and filtering out the constructives? Am I looking to pad my conscience or build my case? Or am I seeking to improve my perspective, to grow as a person, and to upgrade my skills?
If my request for feedback is “leading” or loaded, genuine feedback is not what I seek. “You don’t think ______, do you?”
Does my identity rest in feedback? Do you know who I am apart from the feedback? Do I believe in the chasm between who I am and what I do? Do I hold feedback in high regard without resting potential shame on its hinges? Inviting feedback without confidence is a lose-lose for all involved.
What will I do with the feedback? Will I collect it in a file cabinet I’ll never empty? Will I use it to feed my ego or cater my pity party?
Or will you turn it into goals, action steps, and transformation? Will I find accountability? Will I invest what’s needed to match the investment of the feedback-giver? While it’s easy for feedback to roll off the tongue, it’s also a real challenge for people. Close friends don’t want to hurt feelings or knock me down a notch. It takes time, energy and relational capital to provide someone with useful feedback couched in kindness. If I stuff it in my car door like a wrapper, to be discovered on the off-chance I clean out my car (which is unlikely), it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Feedback is a big deal. It can mean the difference between stagnant and inspiring, between regular and remarkable, between eh and wow!
But feedback needs full engagement. It needs (and deserves) invitation, safety, humility, confidence, and intention.
So…feedback: yes or no?