on feedback: there’s a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

Untitled

Believe me when I say that I had a plan for today. After having finished Toni Cade Bambara’s astonishing story collection, Gorilla, My Love, I’d plan to share parts of it here, weaving her words throughout the post and allowing them to settle. I’m privileged to be able to be home on Thursdays, so I typically spend the day decompressing from the office, doing all of the errands that were once relegated to the weekend, and working on a freelance project for a financial giant located in the Midwest. Thursdays are my quiet time. I cook and photograph food to share on this space; I watch old films, read books, magazines and blogs.

And all was well with the world until a few clicks landed me on a fashion/lifestyle blog, and then the rage blackout ensued.

I hadn’t intended on reading the comments of this particular post–one that featured a series of pretty dresses from an affordable clothing brand–however, I found myself scrolling through notes left by many disappointed readers. While I read scores of blogs and know that sometimes what one writes won’t always appeal to the common denominator, I was startled to see just how many people were heartbroken over how the author, who was once effusive, creative and relatable, had quickly devolved into someone who peddled sponsored posts like cheap trinkets. Long-time readers of this particular blog expressed frustration over the forced shill after shill (after reading through some of the most recent posts I’m inclined to agree), and instead of accepting this constructive feedback with grace, the blogger TORE INTO her readers in the comments section.

Awkward.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts that espouse the notion of playing nice; bloggers parade out the old adage if you can’t see something nice, don’t say anything at all, and talk about uniting to create a kinder, gentler community. I’ve seen comment wars where people who leave heartfelt constructive comments are immediately devoured, called bullies and haters. Many toss around the term, mean girls, without realizing the weight of the words they’re using.

Let me make something crystal clear. There’s a difference between someone who routinely stalks another person’s site and social channels in an effort to terrorize them versus someone who leaves a snarky comment. There’s a difference between someone who ridicules someone else’s appearance, gender, age, or sexual orientation versus someone who expresses despair over the fact that the business of blogging has changed the blog they used to love. There’s a difference between being cruel and constructive. There’s a difference between vitriol and the tough words you may not want to hear.

Over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve had to shoulder some tough conversations about my attitude (I had a problem with authority early on in my career, among other things). I had to sit through annual performance reviews where my weak points were spelled out in excruciating detail. I’ve had direct reports who’ve told me that how I managed a situation was not okay. For four years my mentor (now, dear friend) routinely called me into his office to give me feedback on how I could have managed a meeting, call, staff member, or crisis, better. A friend once told me I was impenetrable. A great love told me, point blank, that I was a nasty drunk. My yoga teacher once told me that my ego was getting in the way of progress in my practice. Must you hold on to your anger so hard, my dad once said. Another time, he shook his head and regarded me with sorrow. Always with the hangovers, the damn wine lips.

Over the years I’d cry in bathrooms or sit in front of the television, catatonic, clutching a box of pizza. Words are like barnacles–they have the propensity to bind and sting. More than once I’d complained to my friends. Fuck them. They don’t know the whole of me. Not really.

Actually, they did.

If I’d only perceived feedback coming from a place of hate versus help, how would I have been able to grow personally and professionally? If I’d ignored the advice from people who wanted my success, yet felt it important to show me that sometimes I put myself in my own way, how would I be where I am now? People who care take the time to deliver constructive criticism because they want you to be the very best you. You will never move forward if you’re constantly tending to your ego. You will never progress if shut your eyes to words you don’t want to read simply because you find it hard to read them. Criticism isn’t meant to be painless–it’s a bandaid you need to keep ripping instead of inching it off ever so slowly. The sting eventually goes away. Once it does, be honest with yourself, really honest. Why is it that you felt the need to respond so defensively instead of with calm, compassion and presence? Is it because there there’s a kernel of truth to what people are saying, and you don’t want to admit it because admitting to it will require a shift or change for which you’re not quite ready? Or maybe you don’t know how?

I remember snapping at my mentor once to which he responded, laughing, I don’t have to invest in you. I can use my time on someone who’s willing to work on becoming a better manager, an effective leader. His words remained with me and I’m grateful for his feedback because it is an investment. In me. Another time, I received anonymous feedback from my team that my early morning emails made them anxious. They felt compelled to respond to my 7AM requests lest they be penalized. I was shocked, actually, because I simply sent emails in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. I never considered the effect of my actions, and instead of snapping at my staff I thanked them. I told them while I won’t be able to change overnight, I am listening and I will make changes.

If your blog is your business, you have to treat it like one. You have to be prepared to accept feedback in order to be successful. Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens. This is the real world and in the real world people will criticize your work. If it’s constructive, comes from a good place, and is meant so that you can get better at what you do, take it seriously. Suck it up. Have humility. Set your ego aside. After the dust clears and the emotions pass, allow yourself to digest what is useful and make small, measured changes in response.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t act like a petulant jackass in the comments section.

In other news, while I was chatting about this post to a host of friends this morning, I managed to make some incredible almond flour-crusted chicken cutlets and this extraordinary saffron herbed rice.

INGREDIENTS: Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio + mixed herbs from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar (I used currants)
1 ounce dill, coarsely chopped
2/3 ounce chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered or crushed pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan, the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the rice pan from the heat. All the water will have even absorbed by the rice. Pour saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority of it white. Cover the pan immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, leaving a few to garnish. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t over mix, you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_1078IMG1231A

8 thoughts on “on feedback: there’s a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

  1. I loved this post. I feel like people in the blogging world only respond well to ass-kissing, for lack of a better term. It is mainly what you see. Constructive criticism is important. I yearn for it. Tough love is indeed tough, but it is the key to successful growth.
    “Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens.” I actually laughed out loud. Thank you.

    Like

  2. What a great read. I agree with you completely. Also, what I’ve learned over the years is that not very many people have “high” emotional intelligence. A lot of people wrestle with their feelings at act reactively, instead of pausing to chill out, think and then act. It’s pretty easy to be a jerk too when hiding behind a keyboard. Sigh.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s