Surprise! Unexpected Feedback (and how to take it)

Next week, I will be speaking at the ACHE’s  Annual Congress in Chicago and when I do, I will apply feedback received recently from an unexpected place. It’s this type of feedback that is often the most valuable and enriching.

Following my presentation at another conference last month, I was approached by a member of the audience who asked if I would mind his feedback. Mind his feedback? As a speaker, it can be very isolating to get genuine, meaningful feedback. So I gladly sopped up Will’s insight.

As always, it’s best to start a feedback session on the positive. Will liked my presentation style, my choice of topic and use of real-life anecdotes. Then came the “but.” This is the part where it gets uncomfortable. It’s always a little hard to accept criticism. We all take things so personally. But how can we personally improve if we don’t acknowledge our weak areas and make adjustments accordingly? Many times, we may not even see these weaknesses as we are too close to the subject matter. So it just takes someone with a different perspective to enlighten us.

Will went on to say that I packed way too much information into the presentation (“feeding the audience with a fire hose” was how he vividly described it). Same goes for my visual materials. He pointed out that my slides were crammed full of TMI. And he pointed out that one of my strengths—the use of personal examples and anecdotes–could be played up even more. Engaging the audience—in general, more back-and-forth—was another suggestion Will offered.

He was “spot-on” on all counts. I get so enthused about leadership topics that it’s easy for me to throw as much interesting material at people as possible. I may suspect that my slides have too much information but, I’ll think, it’s such a darn interesting topic, let’s keep the slides as is!

We are never too experienced or too old or too professionally savvy to receive feedback. We all need to be open to unexpected sources of insight. Unexpected suggestions may throw us off-kilter at first, and force us to kick any self-consciousness to the curb quickly, but by doing so, you’ll be a richer, stronger leader. Even better, who doesn’t like a surprise? When you get unexpected feedback, in many ways, it resonates more than a quarterly performance evaluation or a summary of feedback scores following a presentation, because you know the response is genuine. People aren’t trying to tell you what they think you want to hear.

The suggestions that are hardest for us to hear, the ones that make us squirm, are often the suggestions that we need the most.

What about you? Have you ever been the beneficiary of an unexpected offering of feedback? How was it helpful to you?

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