What happens when feedback challenges your self-image?

I recently received some confronting news from my doctor. Blood tests showed that I was Vitamin D deficient. Medically this is nothing significant – easily be addressed by vitamin D supplements.

So where’s the problem? The issue for me was one of identity.

You see I have always thought of myself as a country girl. Growing up on a farm in Gippsland I spent most of my time outside. My energy regenerates when I walk along a quiet beach, and camping in the bush is one of my favourite holidays.

Vitamin D is referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and deficiency often results from insufficient time outdoors. How could I reconcile getting insufficient sunshine (ie not enough time outside) with my self-image of being an outdoorsy country girl?

A similar internal audit of self sometimes results when I facilitate Fearless Leadership workshops. When a participant receives feedback (either via their motivational profile** or from a peer) that doesn’t appear to support their self-image, the first response is often denial. After that, a self-aware leader will move to reflection and response.

In the case of motivational profiling, it’s self-assessed so it can’t be ‘wrong’. The three typical reasons people resist elements of their profile are that they:

  1. Haven’t understood the explanation.
  2. Don’t like the feedback (even though it aligns with their own understanding of themselves).
  3. Are confusing who they want to be (ideal self) with who they are (actual self).

When you receive any feedback that seems to jar with your sense of self:

  • Ensure you understand the feedback. A further explanation could resolve your questions.
  • Try it on. Imagine for a moment the feedback was true… What opportunities could that trigger? What could that explain?
  • Ask yourself ‘What meaning am I making of this?’. In my case, the meaning I was making was identify and not medical.
  • Decide if it matters. So you think you are strategic and your peers see you as operational – what’s the impact of that? Not all feedback is created equal and not all matters.
  • Take action. Once you have understood the feedback, got clear on they meaning to you, and decided it matters, then take action.

It’s often said that ‘feedback is a gift’. Is it a gift that you are willing to accept, embrace and use to reexamine your sense of self?

What’s your experience of feedback and identity? I would love to hear your comments here.