The Most Painful Feedback

by | Nov 3, 2015

More than 20 years ago, I stood at my work mailbox, retrieved a page of meeting minutes, and stopped in my tracks.

Someone had inadvertently shared the minutes of a meeting to which I was not invited, one in which people shared candid feedback about my performance. It wasn’t positive. I was never meant to see it. But I did.

That was the most painful feedback I’ve ever received, and likely the most candid, because though it represented truth as those attending the meeting saw it, it did not represent truth the individuals would have used in speaking to me directly.

Remembering those moments, I picture myself: young, learning, vulnerable. And crushed by the committee’s assessment of my performance. Was the feedback accurate? Likely, yes. Presented kindly? Certainly not.

To be clear, the minutes ended up in my mailbox by mistake, not malice. I’m not sure in what manner the committee would have chosen to present their feedback, but I would like to think they would have translated their feedback in a much different way.

My anger, my tears, the pain, the disappointment: all might have been experienced much differently with well-timed, well-presented feedback, especially if delivered by someone with an attitude of support for my personal and professional growth.

Well-timed, well-presented feedback is a gift. I received a gift of feedback recently from a trusted friend and client. Were her words hard to hear? Yes. Were there tears? Yes.

The difference between the two incidents of receiving feedback centers on the relationship. Before picking up the phone to have that conversation, my friend carefully considered how to share her feedback. She considered our relationship, anticipated the way I would receive the feedback, and shared it anyway — honestly, kindly, and openly. Her sharing opened the door for healing and growth.

Difficult feedback doesn’t have to be painful, but it does have to be carefully presented, directly discussed, and openly received.


  1. Jane

    This is a beautiful picture of how feedback happens, even accidentally. And it’s all difficult whether good or bad. [All]”Difficult feedback doesn’t have to be painful, but it does have to be carefully presented, directly discussed, and openly received.”

    Honest feedback is rare. How fortunate you are to have a friend who is also a client, share her heart with you. And how fortunate she is to have been rewarded with your gracious acceptance of her truth. That looks like a win to me.

    • Becky Robinson

      I totally agree! 🙂

  2. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)

    One of the most helpful pieces of feedback I received was helpful because it was so practical (and well timed). I had become overwhelmed with a project where I was an administrative assistant, and the director told me to make a list. It sounds so simple from the perspective of ALL THESE YEARS, but I think about that piece of feedback almost every day. // Secondly, I had to do group therapy in grad school because we were getting counseling degrees so we had to experience it for ourselves. It was painful but it’s AMAZING how differently others perceive you than you perceive yourself, and having a relatively emotionally safe place to explore that is a gift.

  3. Susan Fowler

    This is a beautifully articulated example of the power of pure feedback. Thank you for sharing it, Becky. Your vulnerability is one of the greatest gifts you have and that you consistently share with the rest of us.

    • Becky Robinson

      Thank you! Much love to you, Susan!


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Becky Robinson

About Becky Robinson

I am an entrepreneur who is energized by creating opportunities for others. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, running, and reading.