Friday, September 9, 2011

Accepting Feedback - The Breakfast of Champions

I remember when I finished my first draft Conversations with the Wise Uncle.

The storyline was inspired by a good friend of mine, who told me about a life-changing conversation he had with his uncle, back when my friend was 12. When I heard that story I wished that I had had a mentor like that when I was young. It would have made a huge difference. And then I thought, what would the ideal wise uncle interchange be like? So I decided to create it in the context of a story, in a format similar to the classic, The One Minute Manager, for the benefit of teenagers who will never have such a conversation. That would be 99.99% of all teens.

The good news was that my vision for the book was as clear as my passion to write it. I set a neighborhood, city, county and state record by finishing the draft in two weeks. Hoo!

The bad news was that the book needed improvement, and it would take time to get some distance from it.

But I'm lucky. My wife, Kathleen Scott, is an excellent writer herself, experienced in both fiction and nonfiction, and she enthusiastically agreed to read it and give me her recommendations.

She took two days out of her busy schedule and did a careful, thorough reading. When she returned the manuscript, every page was covered with notes. And she verbally gave me the highlights. Her feedback was amazingly valuable. She spotted three or four fundamental problems that needed attention throughout the book. It was like having a live-in book editor!

With her notes and insights in hand, I began a careful revision. The revision was much better, and I gave it to more readers to get more suggestions for "kicking it up a notch."

But I have to tell you, it was HARD to listen to Kathleen's feedback. I knew her comments would be priceless, and they were. But my stomach was in knots and a voice in my head was saying things like "You're wrong. You don't get it. There's nothing wrong with this. I don't want to hear this."

For some reason, I always hear that voice whenever I get feedback, no matter how much I want it and how well-intentioned, true and valuable the feedback is. It's not easy to give feedback well. I think it's even harder to receive it well. Receiving feedback is a major people skill. If you don't accept feedback graciously and follow through appropriately, you may never get feedback again. And then where would you be?

So even though my gut says I doesn't want to hear it, to resent both the message and the messenger, my challenge is to put those feelings aside and listen, take notes, engage in clarifying discussion, thank my feedback giver, use the feedback, give her credit, and keep her informed.

Maybe that's why some people jokingly say, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

1 comment:

Kathleen Scott said...

It was gratifying to see you accept the suggestions. I know how hard it is to have someone tell you your book-baby has a funny face, but you let it sink it before responding, reviewed the text and make changes where needed. I'm honored to have the chance to contribute.