Seven years ago, I left my teaching job and started a coaching and consulting business. I had no idea how to market what I was doing. I began by sending out a mass email through LinkedIn to let people know what I had to offer. Below is one of the responses I received to that email:
Dude, I have never read a longer paragraph that says less. Good luck with your cut and paste marketing. Not interested.
Ouch! I immediately felt completely deflated and then indignantly defensive. I was churning inside – filled with thoughts of giving up as well as reasons why this guy should be banned from LinkedIn.
After some time, I decided to sit quietly, take a few breaths, and consider what was actually happening. As I sat, it slowly began to occur to me that this somewhat blunt message might be helpful if I could get past my initial reaction.
I went back and reread my original email. In fact, he was right — I hadn’t been very clear. The words I used in that email meant a lot to me, but I wasn’t writing to me. The insight in his feedback – use language that speaks to your audience – has been invaluable. Further, this situation served as a poignant reminder of how valuable it is to practice receiving feedback – especially when my first reaction is resistance.
Being able to give and receive feedback is a critical component of being an effective leader, a high functioning member of a team, or just living a good life. However, hearing what we need to hear or saying what we need to say is not always comfortable. It is essential to keep in mind that the point of feedback is growth, not comfort. And this is where self-compassion can be very useful.
Self-compassion is the simple acknowledgment that you are human – that even with the best intentions and careful preparation, things are going to go sideways sometimes. It is the willingness to accept that you are just as deserving of kindness as anyone else. Research on self-compassion shows an association with healthy risk-taking, resilience after setback, empathy for others, and overall happiness and well-being.
It is funny how we often hold compassion for others as a virtue and then are relatively merciless to ourselves. Many of us forget that “Love thy neighbor as thy self” has two parts. In fact, a close examination of this short phrase reveals that the second half is the definitive portion.
We can be so hard on ourselves that we get stuck looking for validation and reassurance from others – this can make us overly defensive in the face of challenging feedback. It can also make it difficult to give feedback knowing that someone else may hold us accountable for their discomfort in hearing it.
Self-compassion is not letting your self off the hook for accountability or responsibility, and it is not holding your self above others. One of my good friends describes self-compassion as the practice of having your own back – being kind to your self no matter what shows up in life.
When you have your own back, you can listen to feedback from others. You can mine it for meaning and useful insight without having it threaten your well-being. When you have your own back, you can give honest feedback to others knowing that how it is received is not an indication of your worth. You can be with the discomfort of giving or receiving difficult feedback knowing that this discomfort is simply a function of being human rather than evidence that something is wrong.
Here is a simple and powerful self-compassion practice:
Sit, stand, or lie down in an open posture
Place your hand gently on your body in a place where you typically feel love or gratitude – this is often an area on the chest
Let yourself know as sincerely as possible, that no matter how things go, you will be kind to you – you will have your own back.
Wait until you can feel some kindness for your self – it may only be a brief flicker at first.
You can practice this anywhere – sitting at your desk, waiting in line, stuck in traffic, laying in bed. This practice can be uncomfortable at first because many of us have been practicing self-judgment for most of our lives. This practice is powerful, portable, and free!
So, to finish my story from above, here is the note I sent back to the person who responded so directly to my email:
Dear ____, Thanks for the feedback about the email I sent you. I will admit that it was not easy to receive, but I found it very helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to send along your thoughts. Be well, Dave