What do you do when others give you tough feedback about your behaviour, but you don’t see it yourself? In fact, you think they’re the problem. Do you humbly accept what they’re saying and try to change? Or do you rely on your own positive self-image, as I‘ve always done, and defend yourself?
My mentor says we can learn the most about ourselves when challenged by those around us. My opportunity came recently travelling through New Zealand with my wife and a couple we’ve known for thirty years. The catalyst was being together in a motorhome for almost two weeks.
Our journey took us past achingly beautiful vineyards, farms and vistas straight from Lord of the Rings (it really was like the photo!). Each day offered a new mountain to climb, track to cycle, or turquoise bay to kayak. Each evening we camped by a river, lake or the ocean, enjoying the sunset, a good meal and a glass of wine.
We also argued a lot over everything from directions and parking to what to eat for breakfast. We’d been warned of the risks of cramming four adults into a 6.8 x 2.2 m box on wheels in which we’d all have to cook, eat, wash up, dress, undress, sleep and pee. 'Spam in a can' as the astronauts used to say. There was nowhere to hide If you farted.
We eased any friction by starting each day with an Irish blessing* and ending with G&Ts and an honest debrief on the day’s positives and negatives.
The first evening someone brought up I’d snapped at them that day because they’d been anxious about my driving. I defended myself but apologised, to keep the peace.
The next few days over G&Ts, my companions enumerated further occasions where I’d lost it, becoming disproportionately angry with them for forgetting to turn off a switch, remove shoes inside or put recycling in the right bin. I defended myself again feeling justified at being angry.
On the final night I got mad at the others for snacking on cheese I’d set aside for pizzas. But it turned out there was more than enough cheese which we had to throw away. That’s when I received the toughest feedback of all. Everyone understood my intention but told me I'd overreacted to the point of being weird.
I knew instinctively this was the truth. I broke down at the awful realisation of just how often I’m angry but in denial about it. I had to accept it.
Back home I talked to my mentor. His feedback confirmed what the others were telling me. The pressure cooker of the motorhome had highlighted problematic patterns in my behaviour that need addressing. I want intimate, loving relationships and must take steps to heal old wounds and let go of bad habits.
Tough feedback offered with care in the right environment is life-saving. Who’s giving you feedback, and do you let it in?
*To Bless the Space Between Us – A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue, Convergent Books, New York, 2008.