There are key ingredients, traits, outlooks, that enable some people to grow from feedback and personal insight and others to regress.
You know some of the people that regress - they get defensive when someone points out something. They are experts at pointing the finger at multiple other people and circumstances to explain why it is not their fault. They always have a reason for why things went wrong and that reason is never their own mistake or shortcoming.
You don’t have to be very old to know how to play this game. Sadly, some people, who learned it at a young age, are still playing it well in to adulthood.
What does it do for them? Minimizes their pain of feeling inadequate. We could call it some other things but I think it boils down to this.
What does it do to them? Well, they frequently are throwing other people under the bus, they aren’t growing emotionally because they won’t examine themselves closely for fear of what they will see and they are defensive when you try to have a conversation to resolve conflict. Hmm.
This is not a fun way to live. This, in its extreme cases is isolation. It is the opposite to happy and it prevents intimacy and being truly known and loved.
At the core, I believe, the person using these patterns is convinced (consciously or not) that were people to see the real, imperfect, them that they would not be worthy of love. It is sad but also very annoying if you are trying to work or live with someone with these self-defense mechanisms.
Before we go any further with pointing the finger at these people so good at pointing the finger, let’s pause. We can all admit to giving in to the temptation to blame someone or something else at least occasionally.
When are you most tempted?
I know I get tempted when someone is trying to give me advice and I feel like they don’t know as much as I do on the topic. I get tempted when someone is giving me feedback on a topic I feel insecure or sensitive about.
What are the steps to growth then, no matter where along the spectrum you are on these habits?
Give yourself permission to listen to the other person’s feedback or opinion WITHOUT replying. Intentionally separate out your response. You can even tell the person that you are going to do that. E.g. “I’m just going to listen to your input right now and then take time to think about it before responding.”
Take time to ponder the feedback. Journalling is an excellent tool for this. How did you feel when you got the feedback? What were you immediately tempted to say back?
Ask yourself some key questions: Have I ever had similar feedback before? If they are right about what they see in me what is the worst thing that could happen? Have I been rejected for not being perfect before and am I bringing that in to this situation?
Choose self-compassion, as best you can. You really can be imperfect and deeply lovable! In fact, as humans we are built to love vulnerability and openness in each other.
Return to the person who gave you the feedback and explain your reactions and processing first. (If this is work this may be short, something like “I’m working on being less defensive so taking time to process feedback really helps me.”) Then give your honest thoughts on their feedback, owning as much as possible of the situation.
What will this process do for us when we use it? Among other things:
- It minimizes the damage that happens when we continue conversations in defense mode
- It lets the other person see our respect for them
- It lets us actually see areas where we can grow
- It lets us be imperfect and receive love and acceptance
So, here’s to authenticity and being loved for the imperfect, vulnerable people that we are!
Until next week,
Marilyn Orr is a Professional Certified Coach, who, through her coaching business “Capacity Building Coaching”, thrives on building both personal and organization capacity through leadership coaching and development.
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