“I feel a bit sad.”
A story about feedback.
Happy Thanksgiving all, and welcome new subscribers!
Last week, I published a post about the downsides of labeling. I posited that labels are too simple and static to capture our complexity and dynamism. I proposed that labels can cause us to receive feedback poorly and feel shame. I suggested using paraphrasing and awareness to prevent applying a label after receiving feedback.
The same day that I published the labeling post, I broke all my suggested guidelines.
I received constructive feedback and promptly labeled myself. I then felt shameful about the label and responded defensively before evaluating how it would sound to others.
Then I felt sad, but not for long.
Here’s my feedback story.
I’m a member of an online chat community created to help leaders seek advice and support from each other in managing work situations. I browse channels daily and follow conversations ranging from company culture to performance management. I participate in conversations occasionally, but mostly observe. I learn a lot from this community and respect its members.
Several weeks ago, I started sharing my newsletter posts with this community in hopes of sparking conversations, collecting feedback, and unlocking new perspectives.
This went alright until this past week, when I stumbled upon some feedback from a few members.
I checked my notifications after a nap and saw that someone tagged me in the community slack. I was thrilled. “Maybe someone responded to my labeling post!” I thought. I soon discovered that the channel I was tagged in contained the words “slack rules,” in its title.
My heart sank and my shields went up. Uh oh.
In the thread, members were debating about whether my posts were “self-promoting.” These members appeared to have looked through my conversation history in order to find evidence to support or disprove this claim. Some concluded that all my posts were self-promoting while others said that it didn’t seem like I was breaking any of the community guidelines.
They highlighted observations, but I heard judgments. I felt a bowling ball drop into my stomach.
Very quickly, my world turned black and white as my internal narration lost all nuance. “They think I’m a self-promoter, that all I do is self-promote, that my posts are just self-promotions!”
I felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and ashamed.
Time stopped for a few moments (seconds, minutes, hours!?) before I finally regained control of my senses, and was able to construct a response:
I explained that I didn’t know about the rules and certainly didn’t want to break them.
I claimed that I wasn’t promoting myself and that my intention was to share my posts in order to create new connections and have discussions.
Finally, I offered excuses as to why I didn’t participate in more conversations: “each question usually has so many responses,” “a lot of my responses get stuck in Drafts,” “I prefer to contribute through my posts,” etc., etc.
A few minutes after I shared my defensive plea, a member responded.
They said that sharing my posts addresses a different goal than trying to help people understand the ideas in my posts. (They were right.)
They pointed out that I was sharing my newsletter posts in channels that aren’t meant for out-of-the-blue posts, but for conversations and discussions. (They were right.)
They then used a phrase that moved me from barely-holding-it-together to breaking-down. They said that my misuse of those channels may “push peoples’ buttons.”
They were right. But…ouch.
I imagined members rolling their eyes at the same posts I’d spent hours and hours writing. I imagined them saying to themselves, “Oh, she posted something again. How annoying.” I felt naive - why did I think sharing my posts was a good idea?
Eventually, my thoughts settled, and I allowed myself to feel sad - fully and deeply sad. Then, I shared how I felt with the group:
“It makes me a bit sad that I’ve come across that way.”
I didn’t think much before sharing it and had no expectations. I just wanted them to know for some reason.
The other participants met my admission with kindness. They acknowledged that it can be painful to be the subject of a discussion in the rules channel, reassured me that they wanted to hear more from me, and took responsibility for not surfacing their concerns sooner.
The sadness I felt promptly faded.
I logged back in the next day, shared my thoughts in a couple of conversations, and even started a conversation. I thought to myself, “They were right. I really should participate more.”
The morning after the conversation, my well-rested mind discovered new interpretations:
No one called me a “self-promoter.” I applied that label to myself.
Sharing my work is, in fact, an act of self-promotion.💡
Promoting my posts does not diminish or contradict my intention to connect with others. (I wrote a post on intention vs impact here.)
Admitting that I was sad changed the tone of the conversation.
The experience was humbling.
It was humbling to learn that I can publish a post on why we shouldn’t label ourselves and then label myself on the same day. I’m not a labeler, but I’m also not not a labeler. Sometimes, I label!
It was humbling to learn that though I understand most of the whys and hows of my feelings in response to feedback, I still feel the feelings.
It was humbling to observe that though I’ve written about how to respond to feedback, receiving feedback well is still a work in progress for me. My mind fell into the same thought patterns that I’d warned my readers about.
I felt humbled, but my response didn’t surprise me. I confront my human-ness every day, and I know how messy it can be.
What did surprise me was the freedom I felt from saying, “It makes me a bit sad.”
According to Brené Brown,
"If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive."
Saying “I’m sad,” released me from my shame by allowing others to see me and support me. Their empathy was the antidote to my shame.
The exchange of vulnerability and empathy in the conversation also supports what Marshall B. Rosenberg suggests in Nonviolent Communication: “Expressing our vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.” Sad is a feeling most people can connect with.
I hope this story demonstrates that even if we know the 1-2-3s of feedback, we may still react and feel, and that’s normal. I hope it also demonstrates that these messy human interactions can reveal hidden learnings and opportunities for others to show up for you.
Sad happens, but it will pass.
Have any comments or questions? Any similar stories? Please respond to this email and share them with me, I’d love to hear from you.
Follow me on Twitter if you don’t already! I plan to source ideas from Twitter and experiment with publishing on Twitter in the coming weeks.