Washing windows during spring cleaning, I was feeling all happy and proud that I found a perceived shortcut using my new microfiber rags.  Cleaning the windows seemed as simple as wiping them down.  No visible streaks at all.  Until there was light.  Once the sun shown on the “clean” windows the next morning, streaks and spots covered the entire surface.  In the light of day, it was evident that the windows fell far short of clean.   It simply took the feedback of the sun to reveal the shortcomings.

It became apparent to me that the only way to truly get windows clean is to have the feedback of good light.  No matter the technique, if you can’t see what you are doing with the sun shining through, the windows will always have some spots and streaks.  Now I am not some clean window perfectionist.  But I did come to the conclusion that cleaning windows without truly looking at them will leave me with windows no one wants to look at-especially in the light of day.

There was a time when I wanted only one kind of feedback.  It looked something like this:  “That was great!” or “You were wonderful!”  When I first learned to facilitate programs in my banking days, we handed out evaluation sheets where participants could rate us 1 to 5 on a variety of factors.  I liked getting all “A’s”.  My schooling had programmed me to want “A’s” and a 5 rating brought back lovely memories of being a good student.

When I decided I wanted to be better, however, the “good grades” left me wanting.  What exactly could I do better?  Where could I have been clearer? What would have helped the people in the room better grasp the topic?  How could I be more effective in achieving the goal? As a result, I began to crave real feedback.  Growth could only happen if I learned what was effective and what was still lacking.  Like my windows, I needed the light to be shown on my “streaks and spots” in order to continue getting better.

Since that experience, I’ve begun to seek real feedback…light of day feedback… the kind of feedback that helps me perform better even if it stings at bit or reveals the streaky spots.  What made this possible?  What if someone “hurts my feelings?”  Inch by tiny inch, I’ve come to realize that I am not my skills, actions or even thoughts.  I can choose not to get my feelings hurt.  I can choose to assume positive intent.  My performance can become better; who I am as a person is off limits to feedback or comment.  That part of me is just fine, thankyouverymuch.

I’m still learning that feedback helps me improve, and that I don’t need to take things personally. It sounds so simple in theory.  It’s the journey of a lifetime in practice.

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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email