My relationship with feedback is long and complicated. I’m an artist and a perfectionist so I'm doubly sensitive when it comes to receiving criticism -- even well-meaning, constructive comments.
Whatever the motive or circumstance, it’s hard not to take these assessments personally. But one of the major keys to being teachable is the ability to receive feedback well. And I’m not just talking about the critiques that we ask for. We need to learn to expect feedback at all times, especially the unsolicited kind.
As an artist, feedback is part of the business. You have to learn to deal with it. In most cases, it improves the quality of what you produce. I haven’t always been good at receiving constructive criticism regarding my artistic creations. Many times I’ve rolled my eyes or groaned that the person just doesn’t understand my artistic genius. My initial reaction is usually defensive. I’ll compile a list of reasons to explain why something is the way it is, rather than owning that it needs to improve or change. Or I’ll reject the criticism outright.
It’s a matter of taste.
It just wasn’t right at that moment, you caught it at a bad time, but it’s usually better than that.
You’re not understanding the artistic intent.
I studied this, I’m sort of an expert. What do you know about art anyway?
Why do I default to defending myself and not listening for possible ways to make myself, or my art, or the way I lead better?
Over the years I’ve gotten better at this, narrowing the gap between my initial rejection of criticism to eventually accepting the truth they hold. I don’t need a few days to simmer and stew before calming down. I don’t roll my eyes as much. I don’t defend myself as much. But I still have a long way to go.
At the core of my strained receptivity to feedback are my feelings of inadequacy and the (false) belief that if I make a mistake, I’m less worthy of love.
This holds true with my relationship with God, too. I struggle to admit and deal with my blindspots because I so long to perform perfectly. If I fall short, will He still love me the same?
But the Lord corrects those He loves. (Pro 3:12). No one can measure up to His ideals. That’s precisely why Jesus came -- to reconcile us. I can never measure up. There will always be room for improvement. The moment there isn’t anything to improve is the moment I don’t need God.
The trick is to not let the feedback define me. Don’t equate feedback for my value. Just because someone tells me something needs work doesn’t mean they love me less. Just because there’s room for improvement doesn’t mean I am worthless. My identity is in Christ. If I keep my eyes focused on Him, stay rooted in His love, then over time, I will be able to separate my worth from my performance.
While we’re here, I think one of the areas we are most reluctant to receive feedback is our parenting style. So often we dismiss any sentiment that whiffs of advice or correction.
I don’t need advice.
To each their own.
Don’t tell me how to raise my child; I won’t tell you how to raise yours.
Well that works for you, and you don’t know my kid.
You don’t even have children; your opinion doesn’t count.
One last thing -- and I hope you’re ready for Today’s Unpopular Opinion: just because the person offering feedback or advice is unqualified or inexperienced (or even has impure motives) doesn’t mean their comment is devoid of value. Let’s not throw away an opportunity for growth just because of who is saying it or why. Yes, every situation is different, and yes, some advice from non-experts is unfounded and has mixed motives-- but is there any truth in what is being said? Can I sift through my initial resistance to discern what might be a blind spot, however small, that needs adjusting?
Thankfully, we’ve got help. There’s Someone in our corner who will help us discern truth from fallacy, and whose love is a constant, steady force that will not wane in even our biggest areas of weakness or shortcomings that need improvement.
Just as with my past, I’m sure my future experiences with feedback will be equally long and complicated. I still brace myself when I hear those dreaded words: “Can I offer you some feedback?” But I’m learning more and more to listen with open hands, an open mind, and an open heart.
Listen to advice and accept correction, and in the end you will be wise. Proverbs 19:20