Opening Our Minds to Feedback!

Ready for Opening?

We all hear various types of input about ourselves all day long and all our lives long.  It comes in various forms: criticism, complements, advice, warnings, kidding, hints, etc.  And, many of us give these out like party favors to our friends and family. I finally realized something earlier this Summer when I tried to get my Relative 1 to wear some new shoes.  I had suggested in a variety of ways that his life would improve if he changed his shoes.  I sent him websites, I told him why I like my shoes and how they make walking more enjoyable, etc.  Nada.  I have run into the same response as I’ve tried to encourage my Relative 2 to feed her kids differently – a big NO sign has been written in the sky as in “don’t tell me how to feed my kids, I got it”.  I’m dating one of the best nutritionists in the world and over the course of years I’ve learned more about food and diet than I did in my previous decades of life.  But trying to encourage my relatives to change their behaviors has been unsuccessful to say the least.  So, I had a realization that if a person is not ready to hear feedback in some form, they’re not going to be able to take the information in – whether it’s useful or not, a big wall goes up, and the information is batted back like a baseball sent into the bleachers!

So, the idea I want to share with you is this. Rather than have this experience, how do we all open our minds to be able to hear what is useful that is coming our way?  Rather than deflect, how do we open up our receptors wider when compliments, criticism, feedback of some sort is coming towards us?  Because sometimes there are hidden gems in the dust.  Anytime someone tries to tell us something about ourselves it should be looked at as a gift.  And, interestingly, we often have trouble receiving physical gifts, as well.  My 11 years of attending Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert, and participating in the gifting economy there have taught me a lot about how to give and receive gifts with grace.  And, perhaps there’s a tie-in there, I’m not sure yet.

It seems to me that what’s key here is teaching one another and practicing how to open our minds and our awareness to the messages we’re receiving.  Opening up and letting in.  Breathing in the message, taking it in.  And before we can hear that we need to be doing something differently, or that our toenails need clipping, we have to have our minds open to feedback in general.

So, I want to work with people at this meta-level of receiving information easily.  Does this practice sound like something you’ve heard of before?  Is there already a theory out there that’s been developed that sounds like this?  I’m asking because if not it seems like something that we’d all do well to learn, and learn quickly.  And, if there is something out there like this (and thanks to Susan Cerf for sharing her version of this with me, and article which I’m encouraging her to write…) I’d love to know more about it.

Some have suggested to me that instead of saying “no” to a person’s feedback we can ask “why?”.  And, instead of me telling you that your shoes need tying, I might ask you “are your untied shoes causing a problem for you?”  And, that’s possibly a short-term solution.  But our ability to open our minds to every type of message that’s coming towards us and  figuring out what’s useful and integrating it seems key to me.

Thanks for listening, and I’m ready for your feedback.

11.11.11 – I added a continuation to this idea to my e-letter, The Eleven.  Further comments welcome.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately.  Partly because I live in a very rich community environment (many of us refer to it as the Portland bubble) which benefits me greatly, and partly because of how the world is turning these days, I thought I’d share some lessons learned along the way regarding community building.

more 11.11

I think one aspect of community that’s important to its success is communication. The ability of community members (you and me) to be able to hear feedback, accept/hear what’s useful in the information and act/move on it is key. The better we get at giving and receiving feedback to one another the better our relationships will be and the faster we’ll mature. To me, feedback shows that someone cares about someone else. Our society does not really do feedback very well – and because of that, we all generally don’t take to it very well.  In an article I wrote a while back I wrote about how we need to get better at opening our minds.  I think it’s worth a read. (the comments are also very good)

Since then I’ve had some further thoughts about feedback. Here’s a way to handle feedback that gets your hackles up – to be able to more easily parse what’s useful and what’s not within the information.  Imagine that when you give a person feedback (positive or negative) that you are speaking to the 20 million other people who do things that way. That’s a way for both the giver and receiver to depersonalize the experience some so that the triggering of old hurts does not automatically happen.  example: passenger says to driver: “you’re following the car in front of you too closely, please slow down you’re making me uncomfortable”.  So, the driver in this case is like 20 million other drivers who do this thus making 20 million passengers uncomfortable. That said, the driver can either decide to acknowledge the issue, ignore it, or tease out what they feel is useful without taking the criticism of their driving personally. And it goes the other way, too.

When you are the recipient of feedback, imagine that you are one of 20 million people hear it.  Example: Someone compliments your work on a particular issue. Well, they’re complimenting 20 million people who’ve decided to take actions on that or some other issue – you’re in good company.

How does this help build community? Well, it’s one facet in our getting better and better at getting in close with each other and helping one another mature!  And, according to a good friend and amazing therapist, much of her work is about helping people mature because “when they’ve matured, they no longer need therapy”.

So, here’s to improving our communication skills and learning to give and receive feedback well. Of course this is just one area in the communication area and is just one part of building strong communities. These topics are a lot of what I right about so, stick around and perhaps something will appeal to you enough to try it out.  Let me know how it goes!

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