How to Handle Unwelcome Feedback

Most car drivers in the world have one pet hate in common; The Back-Seat Driver. The one who knows every move the driver should make but isn’t. “Slow down”… “Drive faster”… “Let him pass”… “You know what, you should have turned right”… “Why don’t you put the car in gear 3?”

The truth is, almost every other day, if not every day, we come across someone with an opinion on how we should be, live, talk, walk, dress, look, run our businesses or raise kids.

“You should have bought that down the market.”… “Why do you let your children watch so much TV?”… “Are you serious? I would never let my boyfriend say that to me”… “You should have invested in stocks instead.”… “You hair looks better held back”… “You should take your business in this direction instead”… “Blue isn’t really your colour.”

There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism when done out of genuine concern for the recipient. No human-body likes criticism. Well, at least I have never in my entire life met anyone who loves the feeling of being told they are doing things wrong. Young, middle-aged or old. So the least the messenger can do is cushion the blow with some gentleness; like a mother blows on hot food before feeding her child.

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If the driver has a map, directions or a sat-nav in place, back-seat driving is not only unnecessary, it’s annoying. Drivers know the feeling.

One lesson I’ve learnt over time and through experience: advice is only welcome when it’s asked for.

When people seek coaching, counselling or general advice, they give you the permission to possibly ask them hard questions, give honest feedback and useful strategies to help them get ahead. They welcome it.

When people know they can trust you to tell it like it is, yet, still care about them and their outcome, they can trust you to build them up and not tear them down. And when you adopt this posture of authority as one trustworthy enough to hand other people’s private concerns, they may choose to make you a co-driver and not a back-seat one.

Employees know the benefit of not being micro-managed by an over-zealous boss who is not interested in results but in control.

Partners in marriage know the benefit of talking with each other instead of talking at each other. A husband knows the benefit of a wife who doesn’t nag. In King Solomon’s words: “Better to live on a corner of the roof or in a desert than share a house with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife… a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” Reminds me how I once had a leak in one of my bathroom taps and had to put music on to drown the drip-drip sound until the plumber came round and turned it off.

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This is life. You are guaranteed to have one if not two or more back-seat drivers at different stages of your journey. If you allow them in, you should define boundaries for them.

Some helpful lessons for your back-seat driver experience:

  1. The back-seat driver in your life is there because you allowed him/her in. You can stop at any time and let them out. You’re the driver. It’s your life.
  2. The back-seat driver will travel the whole journey with you, have an opinion about the route, the state of your vehicle and your driving style and arrive at the same destination as you at the same time off the sweat of your back and without putting in any work. It’s your choice if you want to take them with you.
  3. Be sure you want the same destination and you know the directions you’re taking. If you get lost along life’s way, the back-seat driver will never ever take responsibility. “Why did you listen to me? Don’t you know where you’re going?”
  4. Share the load. It costs time, money and effort to embark on any endeavour. If the back-seater is more engaged in observing than participating in the experience, reconsider the valuable space they occupy in your life.
  5. If you absolutely have to have a back-seat driver in your life chose someone you like. The journey might be stressful but it will certainly be more enjoyable.
  6. There is nothing wrong with telling the back-seat driver “be quiet… I’m trying to concentrate.” Draw boundaries on what you will or won’t allow. Only take advice that is useful for you and discard what isn’t.
  7. Enjoy the journey. The memories make it worth while.
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