How to stop wasting people's courage

How to Stop Wasting People’s Courage

Eliminate courage sinkholes to energize your team.

When you think about inspiring courage at work, what comes to mind?

Encouraging your team to …

  • Speak their truth in meetings?
  • Challenge your thinking?
  • Share new ideas?
  • Question the way we’ve always done it?
  • Find a creative solution to a customer’s problem?
  • Push back on an antiquated rule?
  • Confront a co-worker’s destructive behavior?

You need as many of these business-transforming behaviors as you can get – and for most people, even these seemingly small acts of courage, require real effort.

Until your team is certain that it’s safe to speak up, they’ll worry about rejection or career repercussions. And, that worry makes even small efforts feel big.

So how do you ensure your team has the courageous energy for creative solutions?

First, do everything you can to make speaking up the norm.

Even if you’re the most encouraging boss ever, assume your team members have picked up some scar tissue along the way, that makes safe silence the default.

Next, check carefully for these caustic energy drains.

Where Does Courage Show Up?

In every Courageous Culture keynote and workshop, we ask, “What’s the most courageous act you’ve ever done at work?

Consistently, an alarming number of responses involve overcoming a pretty toxic scene.

  • “A doctor was trying to do an experimental procedure I knew could hurt a child (and was against the parent’s consent), so I blocked the door.”
  • “I challenged a chronically passive-aggressive co-worker.”
  • “My boss was exaggerating the numbers to our leadership team. I held fast to the truth. ”
  • “I stood up to a boss who was trying to bully me.”
  • “I called ethics because I was tired of all the screaming.”
  • “And then,  I got retaliated against for calling ethics.”
  • “They asked me to tell the truth about the CEO’s behavior. I did. And, he was fired.”
  • “My integrity clashed with the executive team’s direction, so I quit.”

Sobering answers, aren’t they?

When people spend their courage reserves just getting past the bad stuff, there’s no energy left for the courage your business needs most—creative problem solving and micro-innovation.

Limited Supply

For most people, innovation takes energy and courage—the courage to be vulnerable, to risk rejection from peers, or invite uncertainty.

Your people can only make that effort a limited number of times before they’re done. The more courage they use to address injustice, toxic leadership, needless politics, or poor decision-making, the less effort they’ll have to spend on what really matters.

If it takes heroic effort to fight against a caustic culture, you won’t get any of the courage you need to serve your customer or build your business.

How to Stop Wasting People’s Courage

You can build a culture that leverages and amplifies every act of courage from every team member. Start with a foundation of safety and clarity:

  1. Don’t tolerate harassment or bullying – from anyone, but especially from anyone in a management or leadership role (even if they’re otherwise rock star performers). If it takes a week’s supply of courage for an employee just to show up for another day, you’re wasting money and talent.
  2. Examine your systems and infrastructure for injustice or unintended consequences that prevent people from focusing on the work that matters most.
  3. Get out and really listen to what your frontline employees are experiencing every day. Ask questions that give them an opportunity to tell you what’s really going on.
  4. Take those comments in your employee surveys seriously. For every employee that spoke up, there’s likely another who blew it off or stayed silent.
  5. Clarify your MITs (Most Important Thing) and make sure every decision and action contributes to those objectives. Check in at every level of the business to ensure that everyone’s got it – and does it. Lack of clarity, chaos, and poor decision-making sap people’s courage. But—when everyone knows where they’re going and how they’ll get there, it energizes the team.

Now on to Changing the Game

Once you’ve addressed these foundational issues, the game is on. Now you can focus on the positive culture shifts that encourage your team to contribute.

You’ve probably been at a conference or meeting where the facilitator asks the audience to share a thought. There is an uncomfortable silence as people think about their answer and weigh the risk of saying something against the safety of staying silent.

Finally, one person raises their hand and offers their thoughts. Soon another follows, then another, and before long there’s a robust conversation.

What happened?

The culture in the room shifted from safe silence to contribution. By the end of the meeting, everyone knew they could trust one another. That their thoughts belonged in the conversation. That there was value to taking part.

You can create that same dynamic in your organization when you make contribution the default.

Imagine a team culture where everyone knows that if there is a perspective that hasn’t been heard, and that it can improve the project or avoid catastrophe, they can count on their colleague to share it. AND, that everyone will listen, consider it with care, and value it as they make decisions.

Because that’s what we do.

Once you build that culture, your people don’t have to spend courage on solving problems, speaking up, or challenging one another’s thinking. It’s just what we do.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you:  What is your most courageous act at work? How do you ensure your team’s courage doesn’t go to waste?

how to respond when you can't use an idea

How to Respond When You Can’t Use an Idea

When You Can’t Use an Idea, Pivot to Get More Ideas

“I need people to think.” Mattias, the CEO of a mid-sized human service provider, leaned back in his chair and sighed. “They have all kinds of ideas that just don’t work. The market’s changing and it’s like no one gets it. I hear you, I should listen, but what do I do when I can’t use an idea?”

Have you ever been in Mattias’s shoes? Your team has all kinds of ideas, but they’re ill-informed, off-target, or are just bad (it’s okay–just between us, we know it may have been a bad idea.)

The problem when you can’t use an idea because it’s bad or won’t work is that it’s often the first idea someone has. If you respond poorly to the idea you can’t use, you won’t get the ideas you can use.

This was Mattias’s problem. When people brought him an imperfect idea, he would get frustrated, tell them why it wouldn’t work and shoo them out of his office. They never came back.

Six Ways to Respond When You Can’t Use An Idea

1. Say Thank You

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want people thinking more deeply, thank them for it (even if it’s not quite as deep as you would have liked.)

Eg: “Thank you for taking the time to think about what would create a better experience for our customer. I really appreciate you putting your thoughts together and thinking deeply about this.”

2. Explain What Happened

Share the process. If you were able to trial their idea, focus-group it, or do anything with it, let them know what happened. What problems did it run into? Were there competing priorities? Did the solution break down or prove impractical during testing? Take a few seconds to respond and close the loop. It will energize the person who shared their idea–even if you couldn’t use it.

3. Clarify Your Focus

When you consistently get ideas that are off target or don’t support strategic priorities, it’s a sure sign that you haven’t communicated those priorities clearly. Clarify the answers to these questions:

  • What matters most right now?
  • What ideas will help most?
  • What will good ideas achieve when you put them to work?

Eg: “Our priority for the next quarter is to achieve 100% on-time delivery. We need ideas about how we speed up our QA process without compromising quality along with suggestions to decrease order assignment times.”

Use 5×5 communication when it’s important – share key messages five times, five different ways.

4. Ask How It Works

If you’ve shared the focus, checked for understanding, and someone brings you an idea that seems way off target, resist the urge to chastise them. Instead, use it as an opportunity for a micro-coaching session. Ask them how their idea will help achieve the goal. Taking a moment to be curious can help uncover great ideas or help a team member understand what a great idea looks like.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. Can you walk me through how your idea would help us achieve 100% on-time delivery?”

You’ll get different answers to this question. Some will say, “Oh, I hadn’t really thought it through.” In which case you can reply “I’d love to get your thoughts one you’ve had a chance to think it through.”

At other times, they might surprise you with a linkage or explanation that you didn’t see.

5. Share Information

When you can’t use an idea, the problem might be that the person doesn’t have enough information to make a good suggestion. What information can you add that will help them think more deeply about the issue?

Do they need budget data or to better understand how their work fits into the bigger picture? Maybe they need comparative data from other departments or process.

Give them the information they need to think more strategically.

6. Invite More Ideas

Once you’ve clarified the focus and given them more information, invite them to keep thinking and to share what they come up with.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. We tried a similar idea last year and ran into a problem – the QA team wasn’t learning about projects with enough lead time. If you have thoughts about a way to implement your suggestion and solve the lead time issue, I’d love to hear what you come up with.”

Your Turn

When you get an idea you can’t use, it’s an opportunity to help people think more deeply and to get even better thoughts. Leave a comment and share your best suggestion for how to respond when you get an idea you can’t use.

Courageous Cultures survey

3 problems with open door policy

3 Problems with Your Open Door Policy and What To Do Instead

An open door policy doesn’t get you what you need to lead.

The intent behind your open door policy is good: a door that is figuratively always open to encourage transparency, open lines of communication, a standing invitation for your employees to bring you issues that affect them or their work.

The intent is good, but the reality is more complicated. In fact, your open door policy may be causing your team more harm than good and limiting your leadership.

3 Problems With Your Open Door Policy 

1. Your Door is Literally Always Open.

An open door policy doesn’t mean you are constantly interruptible. Constant interruption prevents you from thinking deeply and serving your team in the ways only you can. If you allow a constant barrage of “Gotta minute?” to obliterate your day, you won’t be able to lead your team anywhere.

An open door policy doesn’t mean your door (if you have one) is literally open all the time. We helped one senior leader overcome this challenge by defining 90 minutes of deep-think time in the morning and again in the afternoon where everyone committed not to interrupt anyone else unless it was an emergency.

That may not work in your setting, but the principle is important. How can you give yourself and your team the space to focus?

2. You Don’t Get All the Information You Need.

Your people know things you need to know. They can spot problems before they spin out of control. They know what irritates your customers. They’ve already created micro-innovations to be more productive and better serve your customers. They’re your greatest asset – but only if you hear what they have to say.

Problem-solving innovation isn’t going to walk through your open door. [Tweet This]

Most of the information that will walk through your open door are complaints. There’s nothing wrong with this necessarily. You need to be aware of problems – especially those that create a hostile workplace.

An open door policy isn’t enough. Occasionally, you’ll have someone walk through your open door with a great idea. I’ve had it happen. But most of the great ideas will stay locked in your employees’ minds.

To get the information you need to make the best decisions, you’ve got to intentionally go ask for it. Most employees are busy doing their jobs. They may not even realize they have experience or wisdom worth sharing. If they do have insights, they may believe you’re not interested in hearing them, no matter how many times you talk about your open door policy.

Take the initiative and seek out the information you need. Regularly ask your team how things are going, how you can help them to do their job more effectively or serve the customer, or what’s getting in their way. Ask them to teach you how they do their work.

3. You’re Not Strategic.

The final leadership problem with an open door policy is that it puts you in a reactive mode. You’re not thinking strategically about what will move your team or the business forward. You’re waiting and responding to the issues that come to you.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t respond to problems that people bring to you. Rather, if you’re leading strategically and moving things forward, you are more likely to have surfaced and solved these issues long before they surface as complaints or distractions.

Most employees aren’t asked to think strategically in their normal work, so the problems they bring you won’t be strategic either. To help your team think strategically, give them the information they need to make strategic decisions. Help them understand how the business makes money and impact and how they’re work contributes to the bigger picture. Facilitate Own the UGLY discussions to help find the game-changing opportunities and challenges long before they would walk through your open door.

Your Turn

Your open door policy can be a foundation for trust, transparency, and communication, but there’s a danger if you let it make you passive and reactive. Leave us a comment and share How do you maintain a strategic focus for your team and solve problems before they become bigger problems?

the suprising reason emerging leaders stop emerging

The Surprising Reason Emerging Leaders Stop Emerging

I met a fellow keynote speaker at a conference where we both presenting. She was a seasoned entrepreneur who had built a successful business from scratch, so what she had to share with me was surprising.

Karin, I’m so intrigued by this research you’re doing on FOSU (fear of speaking up) and the downstream consequences for employees and organizations. The truth is I’m one of those people. I had such a bad experience when I was 23, that I would never offer my opinion at work again.

I was just out of college and so eager to make an impact in my new role. I had tons of ideas and was always looking for ways to make things better. So I offered my opinion on EVERYTHING. Which as it turns out, was exhausting to everyone around me. I got fired and was completely devastated. After all, my heart was in the right place. I was gung ho. But, the truth is, I was commited but clumsy.

Once I got back on my feet in a new job, I kept my head down, my mouth shut, and just did my job. I had this FOSU thing you talk about in a big way. And I was misearable.

It’s why I eventually had to go start my own business. I knew I would never speak up to an employer again.

Please feel free to share my story.

I hope it can help leaders understand the long-term damage they can do to emerging leaders who may have good ideas, but just haven’t learned the skills to position them well. Also leaders need to understand how easy it is to lose high-potential talent when you scare them into suppressing their best thinking instead of teaching them the skills they need to get their point across.

I thought back to one of my own early-career, well-intended, clumsy moves. I was an inexperienced HR manager attending a meeting on employee engagement where I told a room full of VPs, all with at least a decade more experience than me, that they were completely wrong. But in contrast to my new friend’s experience, here’s what the SVP took me aside and said next.

Karin, You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs that all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers, and in front of their boss! You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix this problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

I took her up on her offer, and she became an amazing mentor.

The Cost of Ignoring Your Emerging Leader’s Ideas

When I tell some executives about our FOSU research, sometimes they laugh. “Oh, that’s not OUR issue. Our problem is these damn millennials can’t stop speaking up. They complain about everything.”

“And do you listen?” I ask.

“Some of the time, but after a while you can only take so much.”

Which begs the question. And then what happens? After you’re tired and they’re ignored?

I imagine it’s only a matter of time until they stop trying, or leave.

If you want to create better ideas positioned well, it’s worth the investment to teach them well.

4 Ways to Help Your Emerging Leaders Articulate Their Ideas

1. Give them perspective.

When leaders come to us wishing their team was more strategic or are frustrated that their employees are all fired up about some small issue that’s not so important in the grand scheme of things, what we often find is a gap in strategic communication. For employees to position their ideas well, they need context. Be sure you’re articulating the “why” behind strategic business initiatives.

2. Provide candid feedback about how their behavior is holding them back.

One problem with over-generalizing about “this millennial problem,” we so often hear about– the feeling that these emerging leaders want everything right now and feel entitled to say whatever is on their minds–is that managers are often afraid to address the issue because they see it as a generation problem, not an individual needing guidance, training, and support. And so, these emerging leaders don’t get the feedback they need and the behavior continues.

They don’t hear that saying the same thing in a different way would be 1000 times more impactful. No one tells them why jumping over their boss to bring an issue to the senior leader without context is a problem.

Here’s the truth. I was a clumsy emerging leader. So was the keynote speaker who got fired from her first job for speaking up. I imagine you were or are one too.

Care enough to have the tough conversation.

3. Build problem solving competencies.

“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is the fastest way to get your team to stop bringing you problems. Work to build problem-solving competencies on your team. Try this simple 9 Whats Coaching Model technique as a start.

4. Teach them the power of stakeholders.

In our emerging leader training programs, we teach the V.O.I.C.E. technique for positioning ideas which includes understanding and involving stakeholders and other key influencers.

We don’t just need more people speaking up, we need to help our emerging leaders speak up in a way that can be heard so their ideas can add the most value. It’s worth slowing down and giving our new managers the skills and encouragement they need to do that well.

Your turn. 

How do you help your emerging leaders better position their ideas?

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How do I Get the Feedback I Crave?

How Do I Get the Feedback I Crave?

Do you crave genuine feedback from your boss about where you stand and what’s getting in the way? How about your peers? If you knew a peer really had your best interest at heart, would you want to hear her feedback, even if it stung?

You’re not alone. Most managers we talk with share that one of their biggest frustrations is not getting the feedback they crave.

One of the biggest places FOSU (fear of speaking up) rears its ugly head is when it comes to giving feedback. After all, if we say nothing, no one gets hurt. Or do they?

The Danger of Not Sharing Feedback

We were leading a Winning Well executive development offsite which began with a leadership panel.  “Steve” shared this heart-wrenching story.

I was serving in Iraq. We were headed cross the desert in two hummers. I was in the one leading the way, and the other was close behind.

I noticed that our driver was really driving fast and it didn’t feel right. I was getting more and more nervous. I knew how dangerous this was. But I didn’t want to be a backseat driver, so I kept the feedback to myself. Finally I took out my GPS and tracked our speed. We were going 75 miles an hour on those damaged streets! I still didn’t say anything.

Then my buddy looked back and we realized that the other hummer was no longer behind us. We turned back, and sure enough is flipped.

We lost a man that day.

I’m haunted by the fact that I could have saved his life, if I had just spoken up.

Of course, most situations are not this extreme. But how many times have you watched someone damage their credibility, slow down a project, or destroy team trust because you were afraid to give feedback?

How many times do you think others held back from sharing important feedback with you because they were scared?

How Do I Get Better Feedback?

What to do when your boss cant focusIn this same meeting, we did a quick “Asking For a Friend” hot seat, where participants anonymously wrote down their leadership questions and gave our best spontaneous point of view to address as many as possible.

And in this room of seasoned leaders, in a culture which prides itself on genuinely caring about customers and employees, the most frequently asked question was about how to get and receive genuine feedback.

“How do you get your boss to give you better feedback?”

“How to improve your performance if you’re not getting specific feedback?”

“What if you are only hearing about negative perceptions from others (not your boss)?”

“How do I get my boss to tell me where I stand?”

“How do I get more meaningful feedback from my peers?”

“I really care about my boss, how do I help him see the behaviors that are holding him back?”

“How do I share accountability feedback more effectively with a peer?”

And here’s the thing, every one of their bosses and peers was in that room. The room was full of people craving feedback, and wishing they could help others to improve. They were sitting silent because of FOSU.

Do you think this could be happening where you work too?

If you’re craving feedback, here’s a way to get some more.

7 Ways to Get the Feedback You Crave

1. Ask for the Truth

Set up some time with your boss and peers to really ask for feedback. Avoid the generic, “Do you have any feedback for me?” Or letting them off the hook, by accepting “You’re doing everything just right.”

Ask questions about areas you’re specifically looking to improve.

“What specifically do you think I could do to run our project meetings more effectively and efficiently?”

“I’ve been under a great deal of stress recently, and worry that I might be rubbing some people the wrong way. Is there anything I can do to improve the way I’ve been communicating with you?”

“If you had one piece of advice that could really help me take our team’s performance to the next level, what would that be?”

A great way to do this is through a Do It Yourself 360 Feedback Assessment. Click here to learn how. 

2. Say Thank You

When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.

3. Respond

If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.

4. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger

If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, keep your cool. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.

5. Find Your Truth-Tellers

There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.

6. Check Your Behavior

If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to examine how you are interacting with others. Be sure your paying attention to the items on this list.

If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.

7. Model It

The best way to get people to tell you the truth is to build a reputation as someone who tells other people the truth–from a place of deep caring with their best interest at heart. If you want more truth tellers, be a truth teller.

Your Turn

It may take time, but if you consistently channel challengers by asking for the truth, showing gratitude for input, and responding to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.

Want to learn more about FOSU, and how to Overcome it?

Check out these articles.

Entrepreneur: How Your Leadership Style May Be Stifling Innovation and Problem Solving in Your Company

Ragan: 5 Ways to Get Your Team to Tell You the Truth

Photo credit by Ricardo Lago

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

Done well, an icebreaker can be valuable & strategic.

If the word “icebreaker” conjures up images of toothpicks and marshmallows and other fluffy activities that feel like a waste of time, you’re not alone.

We’re not huge fans of icebreaking without meaning.

But before you throw your ice out with the ice water, consider this. What if you began your team meeting with one strategic question to get your team talking about a topic that really mattered? After all, great meetings accomplish more than the task at hand, they make the team stronger.

Why not give it a try? Pick one question and send it out in advance with your meeting agenda so your introverts have a minute to think. And then open your next meeting with a bit of connected discussion on that topic. You’ll get the team talking about ways to make the team stronger, and as a bonus, you might be surprised how much more smoothly and efficiently the rest of the meeting goes.

Here are few to get you started.

7 Icebreaker Questions to Start Your Meeting

What one strength do you bring to the team that you wish others would truly see and appreciate?

Why it’s important: Whenever we ask this icebreaker question in one of our training programs, there’s always a lot of emotion behind the answer. People want to be seen for their gifts and the contributions they bring to the team. And almost everyone feels overlooked about something. By asking this question, you give people an opportunity to share something they are proud of. And of course, most of the time, the rest of the team will chime in with some affirmation, “Oh YOU ARE really good at that! Thank you.”

What is the most important thing you are working on this quarter? How can we support your success in this arena?

Why it’s important: Getting your team talking about their MITs is one of the best ways to build alignment and support. This question is particularly useful in teams where there are conflicting priorities. Often team members are reluctant to ask for help because they know “everyone is busy.” Try carving out a little space for teams to ask for the support they need, and watch how quickly people jump in with ideas of how they can help. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can save a lot of time and get the team working better together.

Who went out of their way to help you this week? What did they do and why was it so helpful?

Why it’s important: There’s a 2-for-1 benefit on this icebreaker. Of course, it’s always good to give people an opportunity to say “thank you.” And, if you send this out in the agenda the week before, no one wants to be the guy at the meeting that’s not mentioned. Chances are the team will be a little extra focused on supporting one another that week. It will feel good to be recognized for it, AND you get more of what you recognize and celebrate, so the cycle continues.

How do you like to be recognized when you do something notable?

Why it’s important: The best recognition is specific, timely and most importantly, meaningful to the receiver. The best way to know how people like to be recognized is to ask. When you ask in front of the team, you give everyone a chance to hear and reinforce the point that celebrating success is everyone’s job and that different people receive encouragement in different ways.

What’s one aspect of your job that really frustrates you. What’s one idea you have for making that easier?

Why it’s important: This is a great way to get your team to eliminate FOSU and shift to a “How can we?” mindset. Everyone’s frustrated about something. Healthy teams talk about what’s not working and work together to find solutions.

What’s your very best idea (or best practice) for improving the customer experience (can also include internal customers)?

Why it’s important: In almost any team we ever work with, there are FANTASTIC best practices taking place and GREAT ideas, that people are just moving too fast to share. If you want your team to share best practices and share their ideas, ask.

BONUS: Click here for more ideas on uncovering your team’s best practices.

What’s one area where you would like more feedback from this team?

Why it’s important: It’s really hard to give your peers unsolicited feedback, and most people don’t. But if you invite people to ask, then the door is open, and team members are more likely to share.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What ideas do you have for great icebreaker questions to melt frustration and build trust?


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

Criticism: Gift or Garbage?

“David, I hear what you’re saying about getting the feedback you need to make good decisions. I get it – I really do. But my problem isn’t getting enough feedback. I get too much. Everybody has an opinion and sometimes the criticism is overwhelming.”

I’d just finished delivering a keynote for a group of senior leaders and their managers. Elise had waited until her team headed downstairs to happy hour and appetizers, then came up to ask me a question.

She continued: “If I ignore it, they think I don’t care, but I can’t possibly make everyone happy and I know that’s not my job. I feel stuck.”

Too often, leaders take criticism or negative feedback and either ignore it (at the cost of their credibility) or overreact to it and paralyze themselves.

Critical feedback can be a gift, but it’s how you use that gift that makes the difference.

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Criticism

1) Be aware of your emotions.

Critical feedback is never pleasant, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. You’re responsible for your emotions. Manage your emotions, get perspective, and then consider the value (or lack of it) in what you heard. Remember that if you’re moving things forward and making a difference, you will tick people off, and they may be critical of you for all the right reasons.

2) Look for patterns.

If one person says it, file it. If two people say it, pay attention. If three or more people have the same feedback, it’s time to take it seriously. The pattern doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong – it could be that or could be that there’s some additional information they need, or that you need to clarify who owns a decision, or clarify the MIT.

3) Ask why.

Some feedback is given only for the benefit of the critic. They enjoy feeling superior to others by cutting them down. If you suspect you’re receiving this kind of criticism, ask them why they’re sharing. When they respond defensively, it’s usually a sign their feedback was more about them than it was for genuinely helping you.

4) Look for causes.

People often complain about symptoms. They may not recognize or even be aware of the underlying causes. Look beneath the criticism for a valid cause – something that would be worth paying attention to.

5) Be curious.

Listen with the intent of hearing and allowing truth to influence you. Even if the person’s feedback doesn’t apply in the way they intended, the fact that you listened and valued what they had to say builds your credibility and influence.

6) Test it.

If you suspect there is a valuable perspective in what you’ve heard, check in with your truth-tellers, mentors, and coach. Let them know what you’ve heard and that you’d like their honest perspective.

7) Show gratitude.

If someone shares a difficult truth with you, thank them. They’ve done you a favor. Caring truth-tellers are rare. Cherish them.

8) Ignore it.

Imagine what a mess it would be if authors, movie directors, and restaurant managers tried to react to every critical review they receive. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone (and some people don’t want to be satisfied – they just criticize to be noticed.)

9) Respond where you can.

When it makes sense, it’s consistent with your values, and in line with your mission, be clear about how you are responding to the feedback you receive. And if something prevents you from responding, be clear about that too.

10) Move on.

You’re not perfect. You’re not going to be. Learn and apply what you can, then move on.

When it comes to dealing with criticism, one of my favorite quotes comes from Abraham Lincoln:

“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Your Turn:

Leave us a comment and share: How do you get the most out of criticism without letting it paralyze you? 

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