I was scared. I was tooling down the D.C. Beltway when another car pulled up right next to me, blaring its horn. The passengers were madly gesticulating to me, but I had no idea what they were saying. All I knew was that they looked angry. Menacing. I thought, “Are they trying to run me off the road? Do they have a gun? What is their problem?” In response, I looked away; pretended it wasn’t happening; occasionally shot over a surly glare. Unfortunately, these nuts only redoubled their efforts, which freaked me out even more.
Finally, they gave up and sped off. Thank goodness.
Shaken, I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car to regroup. When I got out, I saw my wallet, resting precariously atop my car. It had been there the whole drive, including on the Beltway at 65+ mph. Two kind strangers had put themselves at some risk to give me a high-speed heads-up.
They had given me feedback. And I did what so many people do in the face of important information about themselves – I rejected the message and ascribed malicious intent to the senders.
I see this all the time, not only in myself, but in leaders with whom I work. I recently watched a ‘high-grit’ Division Director receive feedback that her tough style was damaging her team’s morale and productivity. She could be so fierce that people were scared to come talk to her directly. In the face of this challenging feedback, this leader folded her arms, squinted her eyes, clenched her jaw, and retorted with a list of all her employees’ shortcomings. Just like I had done on the Beltway, she acted as if she was under siege by people whose sole intent was to tear her down.
You’ve probably done this a time or two yourself. So the next time you get feedback – however badly or wildly it’s delivered – ask yourself this question: What if this person actually wishes me well? Let his feedback in; make it easy for his message to reach you. Because if you make it too hard for him to get through to you, he may just give up, drive off, and let your wallet fly off your car.