Who you are and what you look like

I remember at the beginning of my coaching training we learnt about mirroring back to clients. We used the phrase ‘you are’, followed by a description. In a call with a certified coach, but not a coaching conversation, I remember this person said ‘you are’ and then gave me a description that didn’t fit – a judgment she put on me after a 10-minute conversation. I was disappointed, this was a certified coach after all (and I had high expectations), but I’m happy I had this experience, because it made me become very careful about what I say to my clients, doing all I can to avoid labeling or judging. I actually decided to throw the ‘you are’-phrase away very early on in my coaching career, as I believe it automatically indicates a judgment of some sorts.

Talking about judgments, we tend to use personal filters when giving feedback or describing others, and at times it can become funny. Here’s a personal example from last week:

  • Tuesday: ‘Oh my gosh, you look really tanned’ (Comment from lady who hasn’t been much outdoors lately.)
  • Thursday: ‘Dear, you should go to the beach, you look very pale!’ (Comment from man who clearly spends a fair bit of time on the beach)
  • Sunday: ‘It’s the first time I see you this tanned’. (Comment from lady who just started her holiday and whom I see max once a year)

Three different views within a week, on the same colour of my skin, seen with different personal filters.

What about more serious feedback, like your competences or personal traits? It could be whether you are kind, clever, wise, a considerate parent/sibling/child/colleague/friend, etc. How much do the feedback we get differ, and how does this feedback influence us?

Here’s an interesting take on that from the book ‘The Four Agreements” written by Don Miguel Ruiz, a quote from the second agreement: “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”.

Don Miguel talks about ‘opinions’, and we can probably discuss ‘what is the difference between an opinion and feedback?’. At work and in personal life I am not sure we can follow Don Miguel’s second agreement fully, of course depending on how we read ‘opinion’. If we think ‘opinion’ could be understood as ‘feedback’, and we get consistent feedback over time and from a variety of people that e.g. it causes a problem to others that we come late to meetings or we act on important matters without including colleagues, well, that might be worth considering, take it to heart and make an effort to change. However, all the minor (read: not so important) opinions from here and there about who we are and what we look like, might not be worth our time and feelings (read: frustrations). Finding a balance, what to listen to and what to let go of, is the art of the game. The game called life.

feedback bias