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How to Find Truth in Harsh Feedback

What to do when feedback is off base, unfair, and poorly delivered

I have a bad track record for receiving feedback well—at least negative feedback.

Like when my husband told me I was a little harsh when I reminded him he forgot to run the dishwasher. I wasn’t being harsh! I was just being honest!

Or when our realtor commented on the “very bright” paint color in our bedroom that “wasn’t her style.” No, I’m just not afraid of color—like you.

Or when a friend couldn’t believe an old picture was really of me. Lay off me! I’m 15 years older with a kid!

It’s easy to see myself only in the best light. Sure I have flaws, but I’m convinced they’re tiny little things that don’t bother anyone.

It turns out I’m not alone in this thinking. As Sheila Heen writes in Thanks for the Feedback, we see ourselves as the heroes in our stories—we’re always “Dorothy, the Princess, or Rudolph, not the Wicked Witch, the Pea, or any of the other reindeer.” This makes receiving negative feedback difficult.

But we all have blind spots. Though they’re invisible to us, they’re often glaringly obvious to the people we live and work with. As church leaders, we need to care about this. We need to actively work on receiving feedback well so we can grow and better minister to the people in our care. But receiving feedback isn’t always pretty.

Harsh Words

One of my worst experiences with feedback occurred years ago when my pastor at the time recommended me for giving sermons during weekend worship services. I was elated. I love speaking and teaching, and it was the thing I missed most from my previous job on staff at another church. The process involved delivering a previously prepared message to a group of church leaders who would give verbal and written feedback to help me develop my speaking skills. Though I was a bit nervous about this formal evaluation, I felt fairly confident in my gifting, and I genuinely wanted to have the opportunity to improve my skills.

My actual experience, though, left me stunned, heartbroken, and angry. One leader criticized my word choice, even though I didn’t control what the prepared sermon said. Another shared that he couldn’t believe I’d ever spoken in public before because my skill level was so low. A third evaluator explained that I needed to work on my “feminine voice.” A fourth made clear that though I was an easy going person, I couldn’t be easy going on stage. The evaluation went on for over ten minutes without a single positive comment.

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