When did Feedback become the "F" word?


Catherine Cummings, wine connsoisseur, book worm, aspiring dog owner.

My teenage sons have it good for so many reasons. As a mom, I serve as a human ATM, plan killer vacations, and send them away to amazing summer camps. I’ll often tell people that in my next life I’d like to come back as my kids. They really have it made.

The #1 experience they’ve had that I wish I had at their age is the opportunity to play competitive soccer for really good coaches. The reason? Those coaches have been giving them regular, honest feedback for years. Both my boys have learned something it took me a long time to realize: constructive feedback may sting, but when well intended, it’s essential for your development.

When I first started working after college, I had the best bosses-- kind, friendly, full of laughs. They were also extremely polite and weren’t direct when my work wasn’t top notch or if I needed an attitude adjustment. In their quest to remain friendly and approachable, they withheld helpful information that could get me back on track when I never even knew I was off.

There was another problem with this feedback avoidance strategy.

When I became a new manager, I’d never had a role model who delivered me regular, helpful feedback to learn from.

One day I hit paydirt after starting a new gig working for someone with a reputation for being extraordinarily difficult to please. For the first 6 months, it was like I couldn’t get anything right. Whenever he delivered positive feedback, there was always (always!) something that could go better. Which made me try even harder. Before I knew it I was, for the first time, “in the flow”-- I loved my job.

Now, because I loved this job, I was concerned I wasn’t performing (why else would I be getting constructive feedback all the time, I thought). When I raised these concerns, my boss just laughed and gave me some of the best advice I’ve never received:

“If you’re not getting constructive feedback from people on a regular basis, consider what’s being said about you when you’re not in the room. Everyone, especially at your career stage, has room to grow”.

To this day, I consider receiving-- and delivering-- ongoing feedback to be a gift.  To end my 1:1 meetings with my team members I ask the same question every time-- What feedback do you have for me? If nothing comes to mind, I get more specific- what do you need more of from me? Am I smothering you with too much love and attention?

I used to fear feedback conversations, but I’ve learned to lean in, learn and grow. 


Catherine Malloy Cummings

20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL, 60606, United States