It’s a word that often elicits a visceral reaction, a bodily sensation. Feedback can feel like receiving a gift, opening a door to a new opportunity, like you’re being deeply seen. And, feedback can also feel painful, triggering anxiety and shame. No matter what comes up, feedback is rarely experienced as neutral.
In my experience, feedback is often skirted or outright avoided in both conscious and unconscious ways. I get it; it’s complex. Feedback is wrapped up with issues of trust, power and authority, worthiness. And...I am a firm believer in the power of feedback as a tool for growth. Feedback is a deep topic, one I’ll write many posts about over time, but today I want to share one simple, powerful practice that has the potential to change your life: fearless listening
This is how I learned the practice:
A friend and colleague of mine invited me to tea, indicating that she had three questions she wanted to ask me for the sake of her learning and reflection. Once we settled into our booth, she requested that I be as honest and forthcoming as possible in my answers. She indicated that she might take some notes as I spoke, and she told me that she would respond with nothing more than “Thank you” at the end, regardless of what I said.
The set-up alone was so powerful. I have many clear memories of this conversation not just from my head, but from my whole body. I can perfectly visualize her upright spine, open body posture, and ability to hold my gaze as she truly listened and did just as she promised: ended by simply saying 'thank you.'
Oddly, I can’t remember exactly what she asked. I believe that the specific questions were less important than the other aspects of our conversation. Some things I said probably felt like gifts and invitations to her. Other parts were difficult for me to verbalize, and probably challenging for her to hear. But that day sealed a bond between us. She modeled fearless listening to me as a practice, and she also strengthened our relationship by inviting me into such vulnerable space.
What my friend and colleague did in that moment was the opposite of what Brene Brown refers to as “armoring up.” The image I hold is of this lovely human intentionally removing her layers of protection that day. And as she removed her armor, it disappeared into thin air. The space between us became more intimate and more fierce, all at once.
And that’s it - that's the extent of the simple yet profoundly deep practice:
- Determine one, two, or three questions you really care about the answers to, ones that you know will help you grow.
- Create the container of time and space to be with a few people whom you trust to meet you in this space and give you honest answers.
- Open yourself up through your head, heart, and body—the crux of fearless listening.
- Give your sincere thanks.
And hang on, because the experience may just change your life.