I don’t know about your experiences, but my kids are perfectionists — though they each manifest that trait in different ways. My youngest two often quit when they get frustrated that they aren’t perfect at something. My oldest gets really upset when he feels like he’s not doing something perfectly and/or anyone is thinking less than the best of him. Honestly, I’m not sure which of the two it is the real issue yet. It seems that life can be difficult at times when you’re striving for perfection in a world where perfect isn’t possible and people aren’t always going to think you hung the moon.
Two weeks ago, on the morning of my oldest son’s teacher conference, we were reviewing his report card and related notes. I saw my awesome and seriously brilliant kid struggle to hide how upset he was. He wanted to seem tough though he felt anything but. The kicker was that there wasn’t anything in the reports that was bad enough to make him so upset in my opinion. When I saw him holding back tears, I realized that I had never sat down and intentionally talked about the concept of feedback with my son. Of course, we had gone through the “bad loser” stage in kindergarten and first grade. But, this is the real stuff. He’s putting himself out there socially and academically and we’re getting into the more complex and nuanced world of subjective opinion. No longer are things exactly right or exactly wrong. We’re dealing with tone and comprehension and analysis.
Later, in the classroom with his teacher, he sat right next to me as we discussed expectations and his progress. Again, he struggled to keep tears at bay. This situation screamed to me that I was in a parenting moment that must be leveraged to help him gain a key life skill. It was time to start teaching him how to accept and process feedback. I think that parents of my generation often want to shelter their kids from negative feelings. We’re the generation of participation trophies for goodness sake! But, teaching kids how to live an imperfect life and be ok with it, yet continue to strive to improve it, is one of the best things we can do as parents.
So, I sat down and explained some of the basics of feedback to my son as I see them:
- Constructive feedback doesn’t automatically mean you suck. Sometimes it serves to take you from good to better and then from better to great. We all have room to grow and the experts we all admire didn’t start out as experts.
- Assume good intent, unless given reason to think otherwise. Unless someone is overtly being mean — or you’re a teenager dealing with the machinations of cliques of the “mean girls” ilk — the knowledge that someone cared enough to stop and give you feedback should be uplifting.
- Feedback is an extremely valuable treasure – Feedback can save you so much time and effort because you don’t have to linger in mistake-land while you figure out that you’re on a path that may not be ideal. You can learn from the experience of others.
- No one is ever 100% right, even the people giving you feedback. You have to accept the feedback, process it and choose what to discard and what to incorporate based on the context of your given situation.
When his teacher and I talked about how difficult it is for him to process feedback she pointed out how important this life skill will be as he gets older. Have you ever met someone that you tried and tried to give feedback to and it just never went well? Are you still trying to give them feedback? Probably not. That’s not a situation I want for my son, or anyone else’s for that matter. For us, it started with this specific situation, but I know that we’re on a journey that will contain hundreds of conversations and experiences. It’s one thing to intellectually understand everything we discussed about feedback and how it benefits you and another thing entirely to be able to keep the strong emotion at bay when dealing with it. Heck, even adults have difficulty! So, I know that this is a skill we’ll build together throughout the rest of his adolescence.
You may be silently asking me “Why did you share this?” Well, I wanted to reach out to other parents and ask them to make this an intentional topic with their kids. I wanted to reach out to teachers to teach a framework for processing feedback in school. I wanted to reach out to mentors to intentionally work on giving and accepting feedback with their mentees. I wanted to reach out to coaches of all kinds to incorporate the topic alongside the actual feedback for their teams and players. Finally, I wanted to reach out leaders in business and government and say that we have the opportunity to mold a generation of people that are prepared to seek out and accept feedback, that can thrive in the learning environments needed to strengthen the companies and communities of tomorrow.
My question for all of you is: How will you help?