I would like to speak in favor of precision in our language. Let’s put in the effort to say what we actually mean, to be intelligent in our use of language. Two examples:
- It was literally raining cats and dogs. No it wasn’t. It was figuratively raining cats and dogs. In fact, your statement is the exact opposite of what you actually meant. I see this too much. Literally is used to mean absolutely not literally.
- I don’t mean to interrupt. Yes you do. Unless you say that and then stop talking, you completely meant to interrupt. “I’m sorry for interrupting.” Fine. You are admitting to your action and intent. Wonderful. But don’t say the opposite of what you mean.
I don’t generally care for conversations about pet peeves. They always sound a bit whiny to me. So I hope you’ll forgive me this.
I just find myself disappointed lately with our language being used not just poorly, but in ways that mean the exact opposite of what is being said. We can do better.
Flipping through an old notebook I came across these questions:
- What will you make better in the world through your leadership?
- What is the highest purpose you can imagine for your leadership?
We think we are who we are, but we are constantly evolving. The questions we ask and answer ultimately determine who we become.
Valve is a software company with around 300 employees. Each one has a job to do. That job is whatever needs to get done.
Their employee handbook opens with the statement, “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.”
No bosses. No managers. Everyone is expected to show up and work on what they see needs to get done.
I’m sure there are mistakes, redundancy, stubbed toes, and worse.
I’m sure there is also excitement, buy-in, passion, and success.
I’m not sure your organization would work this way. But I’d guess that most people could be a lot more self-directed than they are now.
My clients ask me all the time, “Is this normal?”
- Is my feedback normal?
- Is my fear normal?
- Is my approach normal?
We all want to know if we are normal.
The answer for all of us is no.
My sister once commented to me that, “it is a better life to not get offended easily.”
She was complimenting me on my own ability to hear feedback and not get defensive. This was ironic to me since I was strongly criticized in my early career for being too defensive. What happened? What changed?
The label of defensiveness is a straight-jacket. The more you struggle against it the more it seems to constrict. Once I was labeled I realized that even the slightest counterargument, explanation, or justification for my actions would be viewed as defensive. At first this infuriated me. It felt as though my only response to criticism had to be to sit down, shut up, and take it.
And in a way that was true.
But over time it became incredibly liberating. I realized that my explanations never really convinced anyone. My defensiveness (justified or not) never made me look better in anyone else’s eyes. It only served my own ego.
On the contrary, not defending myself (no matter how much I agree or disagree) turns out to impress people. Thanking others for criticism amazes them even more.
It isn’t that I don’t feel the defensive impulse. Rather we can all practice alternative behaviors.
I like to keep things simple. When I receive feedback I rely on two statements.
- Tell me more.
- Thank you.
Afterwards I can always decide what I agree or disagree with. But during the conversation my focus is not on finding what is right. My focus is on hearing and appreciating the difficult message the other person has to deliver. (Or at least, that is my focus when I am my best self. After all, I’m still on this journey too.)
If we were really smart about conversation, the order of priority in our thoughts would be:
- What can I learn from what is being said?
- What question should I ask when it is my turn to speak?
- What comment should I make next?
Unfortunately we spend most of our time in the least important priority.
Lessons From Retreat Series (1, 2, 3, 4)
It’s not that I’m great, it’s that I was told I was.
I often write about the power and importance of positive feedback. At my author retreat I spent four days with sixty people who share this conviction. And not by design but rather out of habit we all spent a great deal of time telling one another how wonderful they are. Four days of sixty people telling you you’re great does something to you.
It gives you a feeling of greatness.
Greatness makes you believe you can achieve, solve, resolve, persevere, improve, attract, engage, win, entice, intrigue and lead.
It makes you believe you can change yourself and the world. And believing is the first step toward doing.
That’s the feeling of greatness. Who are you giving it to?