Evaluations. There is an email in my inbox that is taunting me, goading me to open it. But I see the subject line and I tell that email, “Not now, email, I can’t handle you this morning.” After all, the subject line says, “Evaluations.”
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a presentation on the basics of storytelling at our Toastmaster district conference. At each of the two sessions where I gave my presentation, audience members were given a slip of paper to provide an evaluation of my workshop. Toastmasters are big on giving evaluations, and of course they should be, it’s how we learn and grow and become better communicators. It’s just that I am not always big on receiving them.
Toastmasters are so eager to give evaluations that at my first presentation there was a gentleman who was anxiously raising his hand, calling out to the room moderator asking about the evaluation form because he didn’t receive his yet. He was almost frantic. She reassured him one was coming. The thing is, I hadn’t even been introduced yet, let alone given my presentation! Gee, mister, give a girl a chance to speak before you worry about her evaluation!
After my first presentation, I received a lot of good feedback from the folks in the audience who were gracious enough to come down afterwards and talk to me. This was my first time presenting at a Toastmaster function like this and I felt like I had done the best I could, but I knew, of course, that there could be improvements – there can always be improvements.
Then the email came with the subject line “Evaluations”. The evaluations were in from my first presentation. I made the mistake of reading those evaluations before I was set to give the same presentation the following week. Here’s the thing – the majority of evaluations were very good. Some said it was the best session of the day, others said they thought it was perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing. Many ranked my performance 5 out of 5 – but there were a few who marked me in the middle, who didn’t like some of the things I did, who had suggestions for change. And it was those evaluations that my mind chose to focus on, to sit with, to make my new BFF. One friend commiserated and said that she could get 98 out of 100 glowing reviews but would obsess over the 2 not so good ones. Do you ever do that?
Why? Why, in some circumstances (not all) does the more negative evaluations just bring me down? Why do I even perceive the feedback as “negative” when really the evaluation is just one person’s opinion of how they think something could be done better. And sometimes I even agree with them! So why does it affect me so much? Why, when I know in my mind I can never please everyone all the time, do I get that sinking feeling in my heart when the review is less than glowing?
I have an idea of what some of the reasons are and most operate at a heart/emotional level and not a mind/rational one: perfectionism, misplaced value of myself and others, and the wrong perspective.
Even though I know intellectually that there is no such thing as perfect, especially in areas of speaking and writing, emotionally I still want it and strive for it. Time to reframe my definition of perfection – the only thing that is perfect is being in process and nothing more. If I am willing to engage in the process, well then, that’s real perfection!
When I focused on the evaluations that were less than 5 stars, I began to doubt myself, began to question that I should even be a speaker. I began to place too much value on the opinions of a few people and devalue myself, as though there were a mandatory offsetting scale. Time to remember that my value, and the value of my contributions, is not measured by a handful of people who evaluate me, whether they love me or not.
And that leads me to perspective. God warns us about working to please man instead of worrying about pleasing Him. It’s not that we don’t want to do a good job for our family, our friends, our employers, and the people who have given us an opportunity to use our gifts – we definitely should! But I realize that our perspective, my perspective, should be to use our gifts and talents to glorify the One who made us and gave us those gifts. Time to recognize that His evaluation is the one that matters most. And I truly believe that when we are doing our best to use the gifts and talents He has given us to make Him proud, then like every good parent, He is beaming with pride regardless of whether we feel we were perfect or someone only gave us a 3 star review.
Should we learn and grow from the evaluations we receive? Absolutely! But in a world filled with immediate, online, in your face evaluations – think of Yelp, Ebay, blogs, employers and yes, even slips of paper given to eager audience members – it helps to take a minute to adjust our perspective and check our motivation because, really, there is One whose evaluation matters most and that’s the one we should focus on. How do you deal with less than glowing evaluations?
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10