[Note - long story about singing and a genuine career lesson at the end!]
When I was in high school there was an elite choral group called "Ensemble" for the most talented of singers. Each year they rehearsed extensively and put on fantastic shows. Admittance was by audition only and it was a huge honor to be selected. Our school also had an excellent choir that put on concerts several times a year. Enrollment was open to all students who were willing to work hard and learn the required music.
One of my fellow students - let's call her Hannah - had a beautiful, powerful voice. She tried out each year for Ensemble and was never selected. So she joined choir and during concerts her talent was on full display as she carried the melody line. Once during a concert I whispered to a friend of mine (who was in the Ensemble), "I cannot believe Hannah didn't make Ensemble again - listen to how beautiful her voice is." I'll never forget my friend's reply. She said, "Oh, but that's the problem, you shouldn't be able to hear her voice like that. Mr. [Music Director] has told her over and over that she needs to tone it down and work on blending in if she wants to make Ensemble."
That was interesting information to me and I tucked it away in my brain to muse on.
I recalled that whispered conversation a few months ago when I was watching a biopic on the inimitable Faith Hill. They interviewed a high school friend of Faith's from Star, Mississippi (can't recall her name so I'll just call her "Ann"). During the interview, Faith exuded energy. She has a brilliant smile and uses as powerful a voice when she speaks as she does when she sings. Ann was a rather mousy looking thing with a wispy brown bob and a soft Southern drawl. Both women talked about how as girls they dreamed of having careers as singers. Ann said [paraphrased], "Faith and I used to sing duets together at church and she would sing so LOUD. I told her she should sing more softly and try to blend and she just told me I would have to catch up if I wanted to sing with her." Eventually Faith began singing solos because no one could hold their own with her. Frankly Ann seemed a little baffled that things had turned out the way they did. Faith just laughed and said, "If you want to be a singer, you have to not be afraid to really SING!"
So when I saw this, I had a random neuron firing and thought back to Hannah in high school and how she was advised to blend in, and ended up losing out on singing opportunities when she couldn't conform. On the other hand, Faith Hill ignored the advice to tone it down and was able to take her loud powerful voice straight to the top of the charts, and now she's advising other would-be stars to do the same. So what's a singer to do? Obviously, it matters who the feedback is coming from. It a local high school music teacher who has never been out of your small town tells you to town it down, and mega-star Faith Hill tells you to crank it up, the choice of who to listen to is pretty easy.
But of course real life is more nuanced than that. Sometimes in the workplace we get conflicting feedback and there is no obvious path to go. One colleague can praise us for our ability to manage details to the nth degree, and another colleague might accuse us of being too picky and suggest that we focus on the big picture more. What should you do in these situations? It depends on how high you want to go in the workplace.
Recently I was at a Board meeting for a client company. The Board Chair - an incredibly smart successful woman that I admire - was reviewing some of the feedback the President of the organization had received on his annual 360 review. A question came up about some pieces of the feedback that seemed contradictory. Her response was swift and succinct: "Part of being an executive is learning to take conflicting or ambiguous feedback and making something good out of it. What helps you work well with one person might drive another person batty so you are going to hear different things about your style. Executives can live with that and make it work."
Wow. What great advice for anyone looking to advance - whether in singing or in the workforce. If you want to stay at the coordinator, or perhaps the Supervisor level, then just keep on insisting that people be very clear with their feedback and tell you exactly what it is they expect. If you aspire to Manager level and especially to Director and Executive level, then learn to handle nuanced feedback and put it to productive use. If you are ready to move up, you'll understand what I just said.