I’ll Take the Arrow in the Chest

Let’s face it – when it comes to feedback (both giving and receiving it), we stink! Yes, we all say we love feedback, but do we? Yes, we all say we want to help our people grow and develop, but do we give the quality and quantity of feedback that walks this talk? While there are many reasons for our poor showing in this area, there’s one obstacle to giving and receiving feedback that we can correct with one simple truth – feedback hurts. No, not all the time, but the best feedback – the feedback that helps you see a blind spot or a painful truth about yourself – stings.

Despite this truth, we want to deny the sting and pretend that direct and honest feedback doesn’t hurt. We want to make it sound nice or feel better. We say ridiculous things like “don’t take it personally,” when the best feedback IS personal. We give preambles like “don’t take this the wrong way” and then deliver some feedback that is more about the person giving it than the person receiving it. We’ve even created the sandwich method of giving feedback (give positive feedback before and after the criticism – the positive feedback is the bread around the not so tasty criticism), which I think is an absurd concept and one that has further fed the idea that quality feedback is bad and has to be softened. In our softening, we’ve failed to give the type of feedback that will really helps others , and we’ve also deprived ourselves of the feedback that we need to grow. Enough already – honest, insightful and direct feedback often hurts (remember the old saying, the truth hurts), and that’s why it’s so impactful and valuable.

Several years ago, I was having drinks with a dear friend of mine – a friend that I had not seen for quite some time – when she shared a harsh truth with me. She told me that she loved me AND that for the past year she had avoided spending time with me. She said that she cared about me – even cherished me and our friendship – BUT it had become difficult to spend time with me. She said she didn’t always want to figure out the meaning of life or try to dig into why things were happening (or not happening) a certain way in her life. Basically, she just wanted to spend time with me and have fun. Her exact words were “You’re too tough to be around sometimes,” so she had chosen not to be available to see me.

Let me be clear – this was painful to hear. In her words: “I feel like I’m firing arrows at you.” She saw the pain I was experiencing, and she immediately starting reaching across to me to pull back  the arrows. I told her that yes, they were arrows and they hurt, AND “thank you for loving me enough to be honest” (to fire the arrows). It wasn’t easy to hear, but it was an incredible gift that she gave me. Without those arrows, I never would have known, and we would have stayed friends—but disconnected. I’m so grateful that she was willing to fire those arrows of truth at me that day. It was and remains an amazing gift.

Recently, a coaching client was sharing with me that certain feedback he had received was difficult and painful to hear, and I shared this with him: “I’d rather take the arrows in the chest than the knife in my back.” That’s the flip side of direct and honest feedback (arrows of truth) – if you don’t receive feedback directly, you can be assured that you’re receiving it in the back. Likewise, if you don’t give feedback directly, you most certainly are giving it to the other person in the back in some fashion. It doesn’t mean you’re talking about them (or that they’re talking about you) behind their back, but your feedback shows up indirectly, and their feedback about or towards you does the same.

Picture it this way – you have an opinion about someone (something they did, something they didn’t do, or something you’ve concluded about them). Imagine this opinion in the form of an arrow that’s on the bow and ready to be fired. At this point you have two choices – courageously fire the arrow with a sincere desire to help someone grow and improve (clean and in the chest) or choose not to fire it. However, if you choose not to fire it, it doesn’t go away (you’re still holding the arrow), and it WILL get fired in some form. It has to because it’s an arrow, and arrows are meant to be fired.

It’s easy to say that you want to receive feedback and even easier to say that you want to help grow and develop your people through feedback. In practice, however, it’s much tougher because the challenges to giving and receiving honest feedback are real, including the reality that the truth does hurt. That’s why it’s the truth, and that’s why it’s so invaluable to give and receive. Even if you ultimately decide not to accept the feedback as true, it’s true for the person giving it and that’s the gift you receive with honest feedback and the gift you give when you give it. You get to choose whether you really believe in feedback (giving and receiving), and only you get to choose whether you give it (honestly and frequently) and whether you are open to receiving it.

Do you care enough about helping the people around you to grow? Do you care enough about your own development to listen and hear the feedback others have for you? Will you deliver feedback with arrows to the chest or will you instead deliver it like a knife in the back? As for me, I’ll take the arrows to the chest any day.

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