Opinions are opinions. They are not facts. This learning, I believe, changed my life during my self-doubt journey all those years ago. It gave me the possibility of looking at my self-judgements and the judgements of others, asking myself whether they were opinions or facts, and choosing the actions that I took. I had a bullying manager at the time, and finally an expression of “You are crap” from my manager no longer carried weight, because I knew it was an opinion and that I could choose not to give authority to it. Yes, this learning was a saviour.
Recently, I received some feedback, completely unsolicited and without permission, out of the blue and from someone I rarely engage with. Although I normally welcome negative feedback, I found this feedback really difficult to process. I became quite upset, which I like to think is no longer my normal when hearing something that might be difficult for me to hear.
Don’t get me wrong. There were elements of the feedback that I felt were very valid. I had identified these issues myself and had been working on them. Although I had not reached perfection, I had felt that I had been growing and improving and was proud that I had done so. The way in which I received the feedback had me feeling as though the person offering it had not taken the time to understand or acknowledge this.
And so, I was devastated. I actually felt broken. It was as though all of the work that I had been putting into growing and developing my approach as a coach and content creator had been for nothing. I started to question other work that wasn’t included in the feedback, such as the course that I am writing. I then started to question whether I had missed the mark completely with regard to this coaching gig, telling myself that perhaps this was the sign that I should give up. I had made huge steps forward, and they weren’t good enough. I was exploring and learning, yet it wasn’t good enough.
It surprised me that I reacted in this way. For one, I generally feel more comfortable in receiving negative feedback than I do in receiving positive feedback. I believe that hearing less positive feedback helps me to grow, and yet, I hadn’t welcomed this feedback at all.
Being upset by the feedback also added to my devastation. I am a coach. I help others respond to feedback resourcefully. I know that this person was offering their opinion, and I know the questions to ask myself about why I was responding in the way that I was responding. I had a story that I should not be devastated over a piece of unexpected feedback. Instead, I should have chosen to be courageous about it and make a choice about whether to take it on board. Yet, as I was telling myself this, I also felt that I needed a moment, simply to understand that I am human and that it is ok to be upset.
When I was finally ready to reach peace about this, I found myself going back to my learning from all those years ago: Opinions are opinions. They are not facts. We can make a choice about what we use and don’t use from opinions, regardless of whether they are our opinions or someone else’s. An opinion is not true or false. It is an offer that has been provided based on the experience and interpretations of the person offering it.
And so I am now in a space where I am considering what is useful from the feedback that was offered, and what I would like to throw away. What can I learn? What feedback would I like to incorporate, and how would I like to do that?
Something that occurred to me as I was writing this post is that I think it is also important to consider the way in which we offer feedback. Have we created a space of permission for offering the feedback? Are we seeking to understand how the recipient feels about the feedback and the impact that it might be having on them? Are we offering our opinions as a truth or an opinion? For the sake of what are we offering the feedback in the first place? I wonder whether the person who offered me this feedback had considered these points. I think my issue was that it felt as though they hadn’t. They may have been genuinely caring for me and looking out for me, yet it felt as though that was lost because I didn’t feel cared for in the way in which the feedback was delivered.
I think it is important when giving and receiving feedback, to understand that most feedback is an opinion; one person’s interpretation of the world as their prior learning and experiences have allowed them to see it. That opinion isn’t the only interpretation. It is not the truth. It is one way of looking at the world. It may not align with other people’s way of looking at the world. That’s ok, because our different experiences mean that we can’t all interpret the world identically.
When an opinion is offered to us, we have complete choice about what parts of that offer, if any, we accept and take on board. It can only impact us if we give it the authority to do so. I invite you to make a choice about the authority that you give opinions, and to feel comfortable in removing that authority if it would serve you to do so.
My passion lies in coaching people to become the most resourceful version of themselves, and helping new and upcoming leaders who may be struggling with everyday life as a leader. I believe that the ability to be whatever we want to be lies within each of us, and sometimes it is useful to have help in finding what and where that is.