Like many other college students, mid-way through my sophomore year I started to think about summer internships. I researched online, networked, and used my college’s career center to come up with a dozen or so different options to pursue.
After compiling a list of opportunities, it was time to make some decisions. Do I pursue all of them, or just some? How do I approach each one? What parts of myself should I highlight in order to get invited to interview?
This was essentially the first time in my life that I had to make these kinds of decisions and I wasn’t sure what to do.
To help with these decisions one of my very first mentors, Ken Freirich, advised me to form a “personal board of directors” comprised of family members, friends, and colleagues. Your personal board is a group of trusted people you can count on for feedback and to help make important decisions.
Eager to take Ken’s advice, I quickly assembled my roster of advisors and asked them each what they thought about my internship options. To be honest, at first I was pretty lousy at accepting their feedback. Whenever someone on my personal board would give me an opinion that differed from my own, I would respond emotionally and meet force with force, telling them why I thought their perspective was wrong. Each divergent opinion felt like a punch in the gut and I was constantly defending myself. It was exhausting and frustrating.
Then I realized I was doing it all wrong. After many painful conversations, I discovered that the key to accepting feedback is essentially playing two different and separate roles: the facilitator and the decider.
The facilitator’s job is to objectively collect data. As the facilitator you want to encourage people to share their views and help tease apart the details of their opinions. You can ask questions and challenge them here, but the point is not to change their mind, you simply want to understand their assumptions and develop their point of view. The key to being a good facilitator is to leave no lingering ambiguities. You need to push the person giving you feedback until you have a comprehensive understanding of their opinion and can see the issue through their eyes.
The decider’s role is to analyze all of the data collected by the facilitator, as well as your own personal opinion, and make an informed decision. It’s important to go back to the people who gave you feedback and explain the pros and cons of your decision, but this is generally a much easier conversation after you have already talked to them as the facilitator. What I learned is that most people don’t care if you follow their advice, as long as their voice is heard.
Accepting feedback is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned to do and I still use these methods today and tap into my personal board of directors when faced with difficult decisions.
One of the things I love most about the puzzle of life is that we each hold only some of the pieces. Some of us are born with more pieces than others, but no one comes with a full set. As far as I can tell, the only people who ever end up with a complete puzzle have gotten pieces from a lot of other people.