Updated: Jan 13, 2021
“Take feedback as a gift!", I heard this multiple times throughout my consulting career. More often than not, these gifts of feedback helped me in sharpening my skills and addressing my blind spots. One thing I realized later, along with the gifts, I was also taking over people’s values and biases.
Last month, Laura, a talented, ambitious, and hardworking friend was put “under consideration” by his manager for being overly ambitious. She was puzzled, and when I came to know about it, I fumed. I could not believe that youth which is supposed to change the world can be termed as “too ambitious”. I would never know the whole story, however, I project that it could be a case of projection.
The term “projection” was conceptualized in psychological terms by Sigmund Freud in late 19th century, where we "project" part of ourselves onto other people, usually to "get rid of" something objectionable. It might show up in extreme cases as victim-blaming where people use victim’s vulnerability to project their feelings e.g. rape victims shaming as a projection of one's fears or insecurities, or bullying where bully projects their feelings of vulnerability on their targets. However, it happens every day in many situations, and we do it without even recognizing it.
In the case of Laura, her manager could be projecting his insecurities about e.g. growth, risk-taking, women at the workplace. What are the options for Laura then? Take it as a gift and become less ambitious or acknowledge the potential of projection and have a deeper reflection or discussion.
Feedback is a complex and multi-dimensional system involving people’s values and beliefs. To make it objective, we need a clear discussion on situations and examples, which many companies have started including as a part of their feedback system. However, any feedback given by a human cannot be free of subjectivity. If we can acknowledge our subjectivity in a feedback discussion and have an open discussion of underlying values, both parties in the relationship (giver and receiver) can deeply learn.
To put more objectivity in the feedback, Laura talked to some of the other colleagues and ex-managers. She decided to have another discussion with her manager and realized that her value of “growth” was in contrast of her manager’s value of “stability”. Though not a major surprise, the openness of discussion showed them how important their values are to them. They agreed that it is difficult to establish the "right" here. She is currently looking for a job in another department within the company, with an understanding that her value system might be more aligned to some other division or manager.
As the situation unfolded, I also realized that my anger towards Laura’s manager was rooted in my projection. I sided with Laura because she is a friend and we align on our values of “ambition”. What would have been my response, if I value “stability” more?
In the subjective world, we, as humans, are susceptible to projection. In our eternal search for “objective” truth, we are inherently shackled by “subjective” projections. The least we can do is to acknowledge our humanity.
What are your core values which defines your subjectivity?