I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback

I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback

My Persona is fully operative! My Shadow function does a wonderful job of ensuring that I am aware of my verbosity and my dishonoring of other people with my interruptions. Furthermore, I have served as president of this graduate school for many years: maybe it is time for me to retire and let someone with new ideas and more youthful energy take on the challenges of leading a free-standing graduate school. This “un-kind” comment might in some ways be the “kindest” thing that anyone has shared with me. If only I would hang around and not take the first train out of town (by becoming resentful and abruptly announcing my retirement or at least not conducting any more constituency analyses).

As I have noted in this essay, the negative feedback we receive can contain a kernel of truth about our behavior and the impact of our behavior on other people. There can be a “pandora’s box” that opens a whole new body of information that is hard to absorb. I face many stressful challenges as president of an independent graduate school. Do I really want additional challenges? Honestly, can I handle anything more that is placed on my psychic plate right now? At my age, is there room for change and improvement? Am I permanently stuck in my ways (“can an old dog learn new tricks?”)? Should I retire?

As these questions coursed through my mind (hopefully a bit of “slow thinking”) and my heart (a whole lot of signal anxiety), I found that my own curiosity was aroused—and an additional question sprung up. Are other students and alumni simply being polite in offering mostly positive feedback – or are they being careful because of my formal power and authority at the school? Like the Wiz, perhaps my colleagues believe that I don’t want “no bad news.” And they might be right. But I was curious and wanted, at one level, to find out more about the validity of this survey respondent’s comments. I didn’t head off to the train station.

I know that my “blow-hard” behavior can also be interpreted as my “forcefulness” and “active engagement” in the life of people with whom I interact. My strengths (being articulate and persuasive) can also be my weaknesses when engaged too often or in an inappropriate manner. I also know, from my coaching and consulting work, that succession planning can be quite challenging for the person who will be succeeded. My own reflections on staying or leaving the position of president is critical.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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