I can't handle the truth
I thought I could, but I can’t and I don’t and I won’t. Well, not at first anyway. When I say “truth,“ I am entirely referring to feedback.
Recently, I have been digesting a steady diet of “feedback is everything“ from my various podcasts and audiobooks. All the gurus were goading me into sending out the dreaded customer survey. “They” tell us how feedback is essential and critical for positive growth. And I'm sure they're right. I know they're right. But I also know it’s probably right to harvest my own rainwater in sustainable tanks and bathe my children in them to lower my carbon footprint. But that sounds like a pain in the ass, and I don’t want to do it.
I did it anyway. Not the rainwater harvesting. The survey. And, like most things I do, I did it without planning or appropriate anticipation of the results. I did set one goal: exceed expectations of 50% of our clients. I think that is a pretty big goal, especially in our world of ever-shrinking timelines and an almost compulsive need to "have it now." Well, we didn’t quite get there. And, if you’re like most nosy Nancies, you’ve probably already examined the image to see how we did.
I made the survey anonymous. I felt it would allow people to be more honest. And they were honest and mostly gracious, complimentary with various constructive criticism. I was feeling pretty good until we got “that one” review. The one review that anyone who does anything worth doing will inevitably get. The one they tell us all to ignore. The one who is determined to deploy their dismay all over your day. I thought I was ready. I said I was ready. I read how to be ready. I was not ready.
Business Is the Most Personal Thing in the World.
- Michael Scott
Whoever said or says “it’s not personal, it’s just business“ wouldn’t last a day under my emotional management style. Business is always personal because persons are involved. And when some anonymous person said our work is “low-quality,“ I did what any rational, reasonable and respectable person would do: I started treating my own team poorly. I was pissed, so I acted pissy. I was mad, so I acted like a madman. Big thank you to my team for always bearing with me as I cycle through these emotional episodes. You’re wonderful, and I appreciate your grace. This one bad, isolated review had very little to do with you or me. It was one jerk’s opinion. And I allowed that jerk to make me act like a jerk.
You calling your client a jerk, Adam? It certainly appears that way. Okay, okay, I'm sure they’re not a jerk. I’ll never know the whole story, but I do know a couple of things for certain. We don’t do low-quality work. We do high-quality work. Most would and did say “very high-quality.“ And we aren’t “somewhat” responsive. We are “extremely responsive.“ And I am not going to let one poor review make me act poorly. Well, I did. But I won’t do it again. I am certain I will.
Someone once told me “feedback is a gift, it’s up to you whether you want to receive it.” In an exit interview with an intern, I asked her if she’d like some feedback, and she shook me off. I had feedback for her that would have made her better. She didn’t want it. That was her choice. I sent the survey to get criticism so we can get better. And I learned some important insights about us and how we can do just that. The feedback for us to focus more intensely on getting it right the first time is something we heard more than once. We’re going to get better at that, and we’re grateful for that gift.
I don’t know who left that review (of course I do), but they don’t like us or we failed them in some unresolved way. That sucks, but it does not define us. What defines us is our singular mission to get better. We work to be better designers, better bosses, better writers, better time managers, better listeners and better people. My skin is paper thin when it comes to the people I care about. That’s not sensitive, that’s human. I wouldn’t send a survey titled “How do you like my family?” and then list all my children by name. That would be crazy and doomed from the start. But I did send a survey about something and several someones that are deeply personal to me. It’s likely I will never handle negative feedback super well, but I can get better. I will get better. We will get better. We are not our worst review, just like we are not our best review. We are exactly who we were the day before and the day after I sent that review. And tomorrow, we'll be a little bit better.