The Importance of Being Seen

Oh lookit, a bonus post already in this limited #NaNoWriMo effort. Wish I could say it’s a joyful one. 
——

I’ve had a rough couple of days at work. I received some feedback that I find very upsetting and have felt rather let down and discouraged by it. After a private pity party and a little whinge in a journal, I’ve spent some time trying to dissect exactly what’s hurting me about it. I actively seek out feedback, frequently ask how I can improve. Personal and professional growth is important to me. So why this feeling of being utterly crushed by this particular feedback?

I think the core of it is that I’ve already spent a lot of time and energy and emotion on this very thing and believe I’ve improved a lot, eliminating the biggest part of this perceived flaw. Yet…it’s apparently not good enough. 

Criticism is hard for all of us, I think. But I find it especially difficult to take onboard as constructive feedback in situations where I feel my efforts in the area at issue have been ignored or overlooked. That’s where I’m at right now…feeling invisible, not seen, un-acknowledged. Or at least my work on a particularly challenging aspect of personal growth feels dismissed and ignored by people I respect and admire. 

I’m familiar with the concept of “being seen” in the context of personal identity. Telling someone “I see you” is a sacred act of validation, an invaluable gift to those whose identity has been erased, ignored, vilified, criminalized. Being seen has weight and meaning far surpassing the surface affect of recognition. Especially for those in marginalized identities, being seen can mean the difference between a life of freedom and a life of struggling to exist. 

But the concept applies equally well to situations beyond identity politics. Being seen and heard is a fundamental need in all types of relationships and interactions. When we feel acknowledged, validated, valued, our relationships and interactions thrive. When we feel invisible, ignored, erased, they fail. That is a binary I do acknowledge. 

In an age when employee engagement and talent retention are actual corporate priorities and not just buzz-words, I can’t help but think that acknowledging someone’s response to coaching, validating their efforts and progress, is critical to those goals. I’m not interested in flattery or asking to be praised and petted. I merely think that if criticism is acknowledged and responded to with genuine effort to improve, heaping on further criticism without any acknowledgement of those efforts is dispiriting and demoralizing. It’s the difference between fine-tuning with judicious editing, and bludgeoning with a hammer. 

That all sounds like a load of self pity and whining. An adult professional should be able to receive criticism without crying about it. 

Yes. 

But at some point, even responsible adults get a gut full of being picked-on. And when the criticism comes without any direction or guidance on what to change or what constitutes success, the unacknowledged efforts seem futile and will eventually stop. That is the very definition of disengagement. 

So, yeah, that’s a grim way to end the day. Perhaps the gloom and chill outside my window has seeped into my thoughts and leaked out into this blog. Sorry. 

I hope you’re feeling seen and valid and valued today and every day. 

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