How Taking the Focus Off of Your Emotions Allows You to Realize the Powerful Lessons That Come from the Toughest Feedback

I was on top of the world. It was Friday afternoon at CEDIA 2015 and I had just finished instructing my first-ever workshop. I had been looking forward to the opportunity for months and was sure that I had just nailed it.

Engagement from the room felt strong. Several attendees hung around after the final slides to engage and ask questions. My maiden voyage as a CEDIA instructor had gone as well as I could have possibly hoped for. “Success!” I remember thinking to myself.

Reality Check

A few weeks later I received the post-workshop surveys and was shocked at what I read. “It was clear you were not fully prepared,” read one. “Way too much cursing” read another, “very unprofessional.” A few token words of encouragement sprinkled here and there, but mostly a litany of criticisms. Needless to say, I was crushed. “This is so frustrating,” I told myself. “No one understands my passion.” (Those of you who know me well are probably chuckling reading this)

After all, anonymous feedback often feels just impersonal enough to leave the door open for denial or explanation. But that’s the easy way out. It was time to get introspective. Although receiving this criticism had been a big blow to my ego, I shared the feedback with mentors who spent some time dissecting it with me.

It did not take long to realize that regardless of the reasons why the feedback was given, the outcome of my workshops was not what I wanted it to be. I had clearly failed in my mission to professionally and effectively educate my peers. Together, we mapped out the changes I would make to my presentation style come the following year.

Anchor on the Mission, Not the Emotion

It was early 2016 when I received a call from CEDIA’s education team in response to my application to instruct another workshop. Based on their review of the survey results from the previous year, they wanted to discuss whether or not I should be allowed to teach again. Thankfully, having spent the time reflecting on the survey results that I had, I was prepared to fully acknowledge their concerns and lay out the plans to improve my delivery. The education team at CEDIA had quickly (and graciously) agreed to give me another chance.

Feeling thankful, I hung up the phone. But the call had also caused the raw emotion of the whole situation to resurface. The anonymous feedback had been made more personal and real. My own industry colleagues had called me out. This experience was incredibly embarrassing and to some extent paralyzing.

What ultimately helped me turn the corner was getting refocused on why I had set out to teach these workshops in the first place. I wanted to be a CEDIA instructor for two reasons: to help others and grow my business. Anchoring on this simple idea allowed me to see that making excuses and allowing for denial was doing nothing to help me achieve these goals. Insisting that “my passion was simply misunderstood” was not going to help anyone else become a better service provider and it certainly was not going to convert them into OneVision partnersOneVision partners.

Focusing on the mission allowed me to put my emotions aside. This helped me see the feedback for what it was. What had seemed like such a damning condemnation at first was in fact a powerful tool that would sharpen my focus, ultimately allowing me to convey my core message more clearly and better achieve my goals.

Learn From My Mistakes

I owe those who gave me that brutally honest feedback two years ago a big thanks. Lessons in processing tough feedback never come easily. But if we are lucky, they come early enough in our careers or personal lives to allow us to grow and develop from them. I have since been able to apply the lessons I had learned to many facets of my life and business. I have consistently seen that staying humble and focused on the overall mission, instead of the emotions, is the best way to turn tough feedback into positive results.

If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of tough feedback, short circuit your path to success by anchoring back on your mission. Surely you will need to time to process the raw emotion; that initial feeling is hard to avoid. But once the wave has passed, take a step back and remember the original mission. Have an objective conversation with yourself (and a mentor or two if you have them), unpack the feedback, and lay out a plan of action. With practice, the negative emotional energy typically found in these situations can be converted into positive results, helping you achieve your goals and likely leaving you into a better person for it.