The bitter pain of surveying your friends for feedback.

This past month I decided to ask my friends to fill out a survey giving me feedback. I wrote up a 5-question survey (using SurveyMonkey) and asked around on Facebook, text, and email for responses. I got 19 replies.

The first 3 questions asked about interestings things my friends had done for 2017. I received some great suggestions about movies, book, and restaurants that I will definitely be checking out in 2018. Almost none of the responses were the same.

The next two questions got into the heart of the matter: What have I been doing well, and where can I improve? I am confident that everyone took this to be anonymous because the answers were very forthright.

In terms of my areas of weakness, there were some clear patterns.

  1. Lack of patience with others and with situations.
  2. Lack of empathy towards the opinions and needs of others.

Growth opportunities

At first I took these results very harshly. People think I’m too self-oriented and oblivious to their needs. I had so many frustrated thoughts about how I only use the harsh language I do because…

  1. I expect the same or more from myself.
  2. I only want everyone to get better along with me. And complacency and feelings shouldn’t get in the way of that.

However, I hope I realize now that I don’t want my friends to view me as a ruthless critic. It’s not worth the optimization if you hurt people along the way (even if it is with good intention).

My mind is geared to correct, improve, and suppress emotional reaction in order to optimize my life. It is really hard for me to empathize with others, especially when they seemingly (to me) show no concern for my well-being or the well-being of whatever worldly endeavor on which we happen to be sharing a journey.

Can a person be both ruthlessly effective AND empathetic? I don’t know. It’s been shown that 20% of CEO’s are clinically diagnosable psychopaths and probably many more are almost there.

Now, I’m not a psychopath (or a CEO) but I understand the underlying psychic dilemma here: Empathy slows progress.

What I need to assess is: How much progress am I willing to give up for the sake of deeper levels of friendship connection? That’s a really tough question. Obviously, I’m already doing it somewhat. I don’t lash out at every opportunity. But, I clearly have an issue with slowing down and hearing others’ thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I know this is important, and I know, in some cases, it can lead to greater progress (though many times it does not.)

This is a topic I will be thinking about a lot in 2018, as I already had been less formally in 2017.

It’s important to add that not everyone felt this way. In fact, this was a minority of people. But, if 5/19 comments mention this, there is a pattern that needs to be addressed.

The positives

In terms of strengths, there were some clear patterns. My friends (and some acquaintances/fellow travelers/etc.) felt that I (am)…

  1. Friendly and take an effort to bring people together.
  2. Oriented towards progress and making things better.
  3. Takes initiative to make things happen.

To a lesser extent: Open to suggestions and sincere.

I am happy and proud that my friends see me as a man who takes initiative, adventures, plans, and brings people together in a friendly, fun, and sincere way. The positives did seem to significantly outweigh the negatives in the survey.  My problem is in shared decision-making, not spending time with others in fun/social settings.

Was it worthwhile?

I’m glad I did this survey. While it is harsh to hear criticism, it’s really the only way to improve. I hope to focus in 2018 on ways to develop empathy and patience without sacrificing any commitment to personal growth.

At the same time, I will think about ways to amplify my strengths of focusing on improvement and being a social connector.

This is definitely a dangerous exercise that isn’t for everyone. It was very tough to hear critiques that I couldn’t rebut. However, it was invaluable to get this feedback from people I trust and whose opinions I value.