One of the things I’ve learned in my career (and life) is that feedback, whether you perceive it to be positive or negative, is part of the recipe for success. It is for this reason that every time I get to know somebody, or begin to work closely with somebody, I always tell them the same thing: “Do not be afraid to tell me that I have something in my nose.”
True Story: Many years ago around Christmas time, a friend and I met for lunch. As lunch ended, we went our separate ways and I, the procrastinator who did no Christmas shopping to this point, decided to stay behind and visit every store in the mall (a lot of stores) to look for gifts.
For approximately three more hours, I shopped, walked around, talked to people I knew as well and conversed with strangers. I think I even bought more food to re-energize myself. When I was finallly finished, after putting my purchases in the trunk, I went and adjusted my front rear view mirror. That’s when I saw it: my nose was full of [stuff]!
As my brown skin started to glow with shame. I got a napkin and quickly cleaned myself up.
Then it hit me, I had done nothing with my face from the time I left home to that moment. I then, very quickly, concluded to myself that everybody, from my friend at lunch, to everybody else I spoke to that day most likely saw the disaster in my nose said nothing. Thinking about this, I became upset and immediately messaged my lunch companion without the usual introductory pleasantries. The conversation went something like this:
“Why didn’t you tell me that I had that stuff in my nose? I walked around all day like that!”
“I didn’t see anything”
“Are you sure? You could have just told me ‘You have something in your nose.’ I wouldn’t have been mad”
“No, I didn’t see anything”
“Hmmmm, ok (I did not believe her). Well, talk to you later”
Here’s the thing, me looking my best was not her responsibility; and she very well may not have noticed it like she said. But I’m certain that after three hours of walking around in a crowded mall, somebody saw it….and said NOTHING! Just the thought of me walking around for so long without one person saying anything to me about it was frustrating but moreso, it was downright scary. What else were people NOT telling me? How many times had this happened before?
So every time I evaluate my relationship with criticism and feedback, whether with my family or at my job or otherwise, I look back on that occurrence to put things perspective. Generally, criticism and feedback is often unpleasant to give or receive; particularly when unsolicited. People (me for sure) can be argumentative and disagreeable. Feedback can lead to bruised egos and hurt feelings, but as seen above, feedback can help avoid a lot of embarrassment.
And let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of times we don’t care to hear feedback, particularly if it does not align with the view we have of ourselves. It is only when things don’t go our way that we then appreciate that the feedback had some value. Having said this, I’m still quite certain that most persons, regardless of how good they thought they looked, would have wanted somebody to tell them something was in their nose.
The Christmas booger occurrence also made me consider that there were people present in my life who may have seen me in an unflattering position and said nothing. That was a truly frightening thought. And what about those brutally honest people? Were they mean people; or really just good people who were prepared to be unpopular for having the courage to have the necessary and uncomfortable conversations? And it goes both ways. How many times did I remain quiet on something that I should have spoken up to somebody about? How many times did I fail to be the iron that sharpened somebody else?
And make not mistake, we have the responsibility to always be our best selves. But just like me, many people will often not realize that some element of their appearance, personality or behaviour is leading to embarrassment or ruin. And, just like me at the mall, they will likely be more angry that nothing was said in attempt to spare their feelings.
So, consider people who are prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations with you a blessing. We all need them in our lives. Often times they can be a big part of our success. My father, for instance, is a very plain speaking individual. He tells it like it is. It is nice to hear? Often times, not at all. But one thing is for certain; had I had lunch with him that day at the mall, as quickly as he noticed, he would have said, “You have something in your nose”