We Are All Such Wonderful Liars

Making Friends with Feedback / CACtackk.03

Most of us intuitively know the path to self-improvement (in any arena) is paved with direct & timely feedback. And yet, despite our best intentions, we often struggle with receiving just such feedback.

Not long ago I attended a public talk by Kyabogn Phakchok Rinpoche held in a small yoga barn on Martha's Vineyard. Despite his young age (32), Kyabogn Phakchok Rinpoche (one of the throne-holders of the Riwoche Taklung Kagyu Lineage) serves as abbot of several monasteries in Nepal; leads practice & dharma centers in Nepal & North America; and oversees a wide range of humanitarian projects across South Asia. Having been recognized as a reincarnate lama as a small boy, Rinpoche has spent his life as a monk studying and teaching Buddhist wisdom.

Among the many insights and inspirations he shared was a compelling observation about how thoroughly we have all mastered the art of self-deception.

As he put it..."We are all such wonderful liars."

The self-deceit Rinpoche referenced included everything from empty boasting to unexamined living to an outright unwillingness to see ourselves through the eyes of others. And his point was simple — by lying to ourselves we are robbed of the chance to reach our full potential; and to achieve happiness & success along the way.

Three Simple Steps for Making Feedback Your Friend

Through a lifetime of practice — starting companies, launching products, raising kids, and managing personal relationships — I've developed three simple steps that have helped me transform feedback from something I fear to something I welcome.

1. Ask For It — Directly & Repeatedly. Many of us may reluctantly accept feedback when it's offered, but we don't go looking for it otherwise. On the surface this makes sense; especially if you view feedback as something difficult to endure, or inherently negative. Like a performance review; or a bad rating on Yelp. But here's the thing about feedback — the more we gather, the less power any single piece of it carries on its own. And even more miraculously, when we "ask for" feedback we don't just get a larger quantity, we get better quality. Next time you're in a feedback situation (soliciting input on a new product, receiving coaching from a mentor, being corrected by a spouse), don't cut the feedback short with the standard, "okay, yeah, I know...I know." Instead, ask for more. My coach Rob B. recommends using a simple phrase like "Is there more?" to literally keep inviting input until the well is dry. This approach has the double benefit of providing you with a wealth of feedback while allowing the other party to feel fully heard.

2. Seek Clarity Not Agreement. Because we frequently consider feedback  a form of criticism, our first instinct is often to get defensive. We want to explain ourselves. Or explain away the anecdotal situation someone is using as an example. That instinct goes right to the heart of Rinpoche's choice of the word "liar" in describing our self-deceit. When we find ourselves working so hard to block out the perspective of others, it should be a sign to ourselves that what we're really blocking out is the truth. Instead of making statements to explain yourself, use questions as a way to unlock the truth in the feedback that is being offered to you. In all aspects of life, asking questions provides a short-cut to clarity; and nowhere is this more true than in the art of soliciting feedback. The goal is not agreement; but understanding.

3. Invite All Opinions, But Consume Only What Nourishes You. Regardless of whether it is positive or negative, the best feedback is productive not punitive. So while your job may be to welcome all points of view, in the end you should only consume those that make you stronger. On the surface this might seem confusing; after all, why ask for something you have no intention of accepting. But the practice of managing feedback is more grey than black & white. We actively invite feedback from all quarters because (candidly) we can't predict exactly what insights and perspectives might actually pierce our veil of self-deception and help us to grow. However, if we have listened honestly to what someone has said, and still find no truth in it (or worse, find it to be petty or hurtful), then simply leave it behind. In my opinion, mastering this step is the key to the whole process. When I was younger, I took any negative feedback as a personal criticism and if I could not block it with defensiveness (see #2 above), then I would swallow it whole and it would sit like a rock in my belly, weighing me down and defeating me from the inside out. The analogy I use with my 20-year old daughter Julia is to think of feedback as a meal that's literally being served to you. We are not babies, so when the food (ie feedback) arrives, make sure it is set on the table before you, rather than stuffed down your throat. Then taste it all, but only fully consume that which will nourish you. Never allow anyone, regardless of their rank or relationship, to put their perspectives (especially negative ones) directly in you. That can only be destructive. Instead, cultivate the skill to consciously & fearlessly consume what nourishes you.

And remember, work to embody these same steps when you're the one offering the feedback.