The other day I got some not-so-positive feedback about a course I just finished teaching. I got some positive feedback too but the bad stuff is always easier to remember, right?

As a life coach, I’m a scientist of my own life and I’ll tell you, I’ve been a fascinating subject these past few weeks.  Being on the receiving end of this not-so-positive feedback sent me right down the approval addiction death spiral.

Here’s the pattern. I try something. It doesn’t go well. I receive what I interpret to be disapproval. My mind fills with crappy thoughts. A foul mood ensues spilling over into many other parts of my life. I decide to avoid the source of said disapproval and chalk it all up to my own incompetence.

I noticed a few differences this time. Although there was definitely a foul mood which pretty much made everyone in my household miserable for several days, I haven’t used the not-so-positive feedback as an excuse to hide from the original situation and I haven’t written myself off as hopelessly incompetent.

The difference? I now have a healthy respect for disapproval.

One irony I’ve noticed as I work through my own approval addiction, is that the less preoccupied I am about getting approval, the more vulnerable I am to receiving disapproval.

This has actually been a blessing in disguise because it has helped me to see that receiving disapproval and the not-so-positive feedback that often follows can actually be a good thing – that is, if you are acting from a place of authenticity. (So, no, I don’t mean the disapproval that comes after you drop a water balloon on someone’s head from four stories high.)

The truth is that sometimes your authentic self will piss people off, even when you say what you say and do what you do with love and respect.

As a life coach, for example, I have to be absolutely willing to accept disapproval from my clients.

When I’m busy worrying about what a client is thinking – do they like my coaching? Are they getting anything out of this? – I’m busy trying to read their minds, to extract approval from them. As a result, I loose sight of what they’re saying and how I can help them.

I have to say things to them, at times, they may not want to hear. As Dallas Cowboys Football coach Tom Landry (sorry honey) once said:

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

That very same thing I said that pissed them off, though, might one day end up a source of some deep insight or inspiration. Who knows? When I cut off my authentic self by trying to gain approval, I miss that potential.

This is why I say it takes a lot of guts to “just be yourself.”  You have to be willing to put yourself out there, to say what you think and to try something new.  You have to be, as Brooke Castillo writes, willing to suck.  The other thing you have to be is resilient. Because sometimes when you’re willing to suck, you create something beautiful but other times you simply produce a mediocre product.

In my coaching program, we are trained to use the expression “tell me where I’m wrong” during coaching sessions. We do it after throwing out a hypothesis about what we think the client is experiencing. I used to think I was supposed to do this as a way to make sure my educated guesses were on target. But the wise Master Coach Jackie Gartman pointed out that we do this for feedback. We want our clients to tell us where we’re wrong, where we’re totally off base. Because every time they do, we learn a little more about them. The picture gets more and more clear and we understand the situation better.

This is why negative feedback is so helpful. If you are open to it, it helps you get closer to the truth. Closer to where you want to be. Closer to creating that beautiful thing.

I have to say, all of this respect for disapproval takes a lot of love. You have to love yourself enough to know you don’t need that approval and you have to love other people enough to tell the truth and you have to love what you do enough to accept the mediocre product and the not-so-positive feedback because you understand that in the end it’s not failure, it’s just feedback.

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4 Responses

  1. This is my favorite part of the post:
    “This is why negative feedback is so helpful. If you are open to it, it helps you get closer to the truth. Closer to where you want to be. Closer to creating that beautiful thing.”
    So true! Without sorrow carving into your being you wouldn’t be able to contain joy. Without living it you wouldn’t be able to give it. And no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. :) That’s a lot of platitudes, but I can’t help myself sometimes.
    Great post.

  2. Oh Amy! The words in this post are covering me right now like a soothing blanket. What a wonderful presentation and a much healthier way to look at feedback. Thank you so much.

    Your honesty and courage are remarkable. I am so grateful that you speak from such an open place. What you have to say is so important and you say it with such raw transparency. Wow.

    Your guidance and leadership with this post and the work that I have been doing in your “I Don’t Need Your Approval” class have been deeply life-altering. Truly.

    Thank you Amy.

  3. Naomi Cheung says:

    Thank you so much for this truly wise and inspiring post!!!

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