Fruitcakes Are Good For You

A couple of weeks ago, I got some feedback I didn’t want to hear. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working with a group of smart, ambitious, mid-career professionals, teaching them strategies to define and maximise the next stage of their careers. I love this work, and I love working with those types of people. However, one of the challenges, for me at least, is sometimes they can be pretty blunt.

Mid-way through our programme, participants were asked to complete a survey on how the process had been going. To my great delight, the vast majority of respondents were very happy and getting a lot of value. Except for one. An outlier who thought I was completely off the mark, teaching stuff way below their level, and I needed to step it way up. Shudder. It was the first time I’d received feedback like that in working with many similar groups over the past five years.

As much as I’d love to have shrugged that outlier off, I couldn’t. I stewed over it for days, with a knot in my stomach, not knowing who the person was. Was it was solely their opinion, or representative of others in the group who hadn’t responded to the survey? My confidence was rocked. I started to really worry about how I’d perform at my next meeting with them. After a couple of days, I discussed it with a friend, who simply said “you’ve got a fruitcake in your group. People like that are gold. Use their feedback to make your stuff even better, even if you disagree with what they’re saying.”

She was right. I planned the next session rigorously, ferociously. I sweated the details. At the start of the session, I thanked the group for their feedback, without going into details. Then I poured extra passion into my delivery, and you could feel the energy of the room humming during our time together. Even more than usual. Awesome. Did it make a difference to that one person? As of this time of writing, I don’t know. But I do know that I stepped it up a notch, and for that, I thank them.

So what did I learn?

Don’t write off the fruitcakes. Most people’s advice would be “if everyone’s telling you, it’s your problem. If it’s only an outlier, it’s their problem”. It would have been easy to say “their issue, not mine”. But I would have missed a big opportunity to grow.

In sitting with the feedback, I wrestled with two opposing inner forces:

·   My confidence in my ability: “I’m good at this stuff!”

·   My insecurities: “I hope I’m OK!”

These are like the figurative angel and devil that sit on our shoulders and whisper in our ears. It doesn’t serve us to ignore the devil and listen only to the angel. We need to take on board both voices. 

So ask yourself: Who have you written off that you could learn from? What have they got to teach you? Listen out for the ones who speak with a different voice. That’s where you’re greatest growth opportunity will be.

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