Bulldozer Bosses

Image of bulldozer
Image source: Pixaby.com

In my previous post, I shared my view on the latest scandal around college admissions – bulldozer (or lawnmower, or snowplow…) parents.

This time I’m going to take on the issue of bulldozer bosses.

Have you ever experienced a bulldozer boss? Have you ever been one?

It is critical in the development of a child to allow them to experience failure – and to know the joy of pulling yourself out of it. Failure happens. Mistakes happen. We must develop our resilience and learn to recover.

This ability to learn from our mistakes, to deal with failure, doesn’t end when we leave school. Rather, when we stop allowing any possibility of failure, we stop learning.

In my experience, our greatest learning happens in the aftermath of things that go horribly wrong. I am not saying that we have to actually fail in order to learn. I am a huge fan of learning from the mistakes of others.

But, I am suggesting that allowing for at least the possibility of failure, by operating in a space where we accept that failure is a possibility, we do learn more.

Some bosses behave in a way that disallows any option of failure. They berate staff who make the most minor of mistakes, they fire people for making even single mistakes, etc.

My philosophy has always been that it is OK to make a mistake. Repeating them is not.

Some bosses act like bulldozer parents who attempt to clear all possible roadblocks. They cannot tolerate any possibility of failure.

Some of these bosses, in their attempts to avoid failures, become micromanagers. They not only tell their staff what to do, but exactly how to do it. And by “how to do it” I mean “the way I would do it.”

Like loading the dishwasher, there are many ways to accomplish the same objective. It really doesn’t matter whether the silverware gets loaded handle up or handle down. (I know, heresy, right?) We all develop our preferences for which is the right way, but in the end, they get clean either way.

The next level beyond micromanaging are the bosses who step in and do the work their staff should be doing. They don’t trust that their staff is capable of doing the task, so they do it themselves.

This is the worst of all. It sends a clear signal to the staff that they are seen as incompetent. It gives them no path to grow. It encourages them to do less, when all the time we are being surrounded by a message that we should be doing more.

If we want our staff to grow in confidence and capability, we must allow room for them to make mistakes. And in doing that, we also allow room for them to do things far better than we could have done ourselves.

Step out of the bulldozer. Point the way. Set the direction. Then stand back and watch the magic happen.

Making It Look Easy

Inigo Montoya: You are wonderful.

Man in Black: Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.

The Princess Bride

I love watching people who are skilled at their craft.

The scene from “The Princess Bride” quoted above is a perfect example. Two highly skilled swordsmen in an epic duel. Both such masters of their blades that they make it look easy.

I recently had a front row seat at a concert by Ellis Marsalis and his trio. Ellis Marsalis is a jazz pianist and the patriarch of the well known Marsalis clan. Perhaps you’ve heard of his more popular sons Branford and Winton, or the younger Delfeayo and Jason.

The concert was an evening of awesome music and performance. Ellis is well known in the jazz world for his smooth style at the piano. At 84 years old, he can barely walk. But, when his hands start moving over the keys, you forget that he needed assistance to get to his position on the piano bench.

He makes it look easy.

If someone had said, “You are wonderful,” he would have been justified in responding, “Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.”

What is it that you do that elicits that statement?

I’ll bet that there are things you have done for so long that you find them to be easy to do and that you have forgotten how long you worked to become proficient. With most things we do on a regular basis, once we become good at them, we forget that it was ever hard. Take walking for example. Or riding a bike.

There’s a fun saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The concept of that saying is that when we have mastered a particular tool or technique, we tend to apply that tool or technique as our first choice for anything we encounter.

What’s the go-to tool in your toolbox?

There’s nothing wrong with this “everything looks like a nail” approach. When we have great skills in a particular thing, it makes sense to apply those skills.

The problem arises when we become so enamored by someone else’s mastery of their particular tool of choice that we forget that isn’t the only way to accomplish the task.

Each of the Marsalis brothers plays a different instrument. Imagine if they all thought they had to create music the same way as their dad.

And yet, that’s exactly how we often think. We see someone who is good at artistic painting, or sewing, or creating masterful Excel spreadsheets. We can’t do those specific things, so we feel “less than.”

Often, this gets exacerbated by the Excel expert who thinks the only way to do, well, pretty much anything, is by using Excel. So, everything they show you involves a spreadsheet. If you’re not good with that tool, the job becomes harder and wrought with frustration.

Go back to the original objective. What are you trying to accomplish? How is that “expert” using their tool of choice to accomplish it? What are your skills? How could you apply what you are good at to accomplish your goal?

There are many ways to attach two pieces of lumber together. A hammer and nails is only one of them.

In music, the variety of instruments makes the music better. We all need more cowbell. But, even that has its limits.

Use your tools. Make it look easy.

You are wonderful. You’ve worked hard to become so.

Simple Luxuries

Photo of a piano with a microphone on it.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What brings you pleasure?

What are your favorite little luxuries?

Where do you draw the line when it comes to saving money?

For my wife and I, coffee is a big one. We make our own coffee, but we are particular about the brands that we like. It’s not always Starbucks, although that is our go-to favorite. We’ve experimented with cheaper brands. Every time, though, we come to the same conclusion: it’s worth it to us to spend a little bit more for the brands we like. So we watch for sales and stock up when we can.

Being just the two of us in our house now, we also tend to spend more for smaller packaging rather than buying the mega-packs that would be cheaper on a per unit basis. We view it as paying the stores to store the excess for us. We’ll come back and pick it up as we need it, thank you.

There is something satisfying about being able to spring for life’s little luxuries. These are different for everybody.

For some people, it’s Charmin ultra soft toilet paper. Maybe it’s Jeni’s Ice Cream. Or, perhaps it’s that specific type of ballpoint pen, medium tip, black ink, that only comes in 5-packs and can only be found at that one store.

I am fond of good quality legal pads. White paper. College ruled. Somehow writing on them just feels better. It makes the ideas that get scribbled there seem more important.

I could go on and on about my personal choices for which things I find worth spending a bit more vs. where I am willing to go with the cheaper brand. You might get a laugh out of the list. You would likely disagree with many of the choices.

What matters more, though, are the choices that you make. Only you can determine those items that are important to you.

If you are a compulsive saver, uber frugal, who finds pleasure in how much you save by buying in bulk, go for it. If you are fine with plain old stick pens, have at it. I am not suggesting you do otherwise.

However, I do think it is important to identify those areas where treating yourself, even if only occasionally, is valuable. It sends a signal to your brain that you value your self, that you see yourself as being worth it. And you are.

So, go ahead. Throw caution to the wind. Buy yourself the extra-bright colored super-sticky 3M brand Post-It Notes.

You have earned it.

You are worthy.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Photo of an Inn on a Lake.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Where do you spend your time?

Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time working on our weaknesses, while downplaying, if not outright ignoring, where we are truly gifted. In many cases, we don’t recognize how special our particular strengths are.

This pattern of focusing on our weaknesses routinely plays out at work in the annual performance evaluations.

After your evaluation, where does your mind go? What do you spend all of your time stewing over when you walk out? Right. The stuff you were told you need to work on. Your weaknesses.

Here’s a thought. What if we focus more of our energy on what we are doing well? What if we simply do more of that and less of what we don’t do well?

When I was a manager in an office job, this was much easier for me to do. If there was something I didn’t enjoy doing, or was not particularly good at doing, but recognized the importance of it being done, I could delegate that task to someone on my staff.

By delegating, I do not mean dumping. Proper delegation involves assigning tasks to people who are best suited to do that task. Maybe they’re already good at it. Maybe they are looking for opportunities to become good at it. Either way, delegation done right is a gift you are giving, not a burden you are imposing.

Effective delegation tends to be one of the hardest lessons for new managers to learn.

As a homeowner, there is no end to the litany of ongoing maintenance. Many repairs are things I am able to handle and even enjoy. But, there are others I won’t touch. Electrical work? I’m all over it. Gas lines? No way. Plumbing? I’d rather not, but I’ll do it in a pinch.

As a manager, I became adept at delegating tasks for which I had no inclination, sometimes to a fault. I had one particular boss who did not appreciate my lack of interest in keeping statistics in my head. But, I had a person on my staff who loved that.

When it comes to home maintenance, I tend to work around things I can’t handle myself for as long as I can get away with it. In other words, until my wife gets angry.

Why is it so hard for us to accept that there are things we are simply not good at doing, or that we have no interest in becoming good at doing, and move on? Why do we constantly beat ourselves up over the areas where we struggle, while totally disregarding those areas where we excel?

We accept the idea of focusing on our strengths as a natural thing when it comes to sports teams. Let’s talk football.

Imagine listening in on the performance evaluation for the guy who plays center. His primary job is to hike the ball to the quarterback. During his review, he is criticized for not being able to kick a field goal. Sounds ludicrous, right? And yet, that is exactly how we treat ourselves.

We expect ourselves to be able to do everything. Sadly, I’ve experienced performance evaluations in the workplace that were equally ludicrous.

Sure, most of us work in jobs that have broader expectations than “hike the ball”, or “kick field goals”. And, truth be told, most of those guys actually can and do play multiple positions. But, for the most part, typical job descriptions have a fairly narrow focus.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my business. I love having my own business. This was my desire since high school. OK, this particular business was not what I had in mind when I studied electrical engineering in college. But, the type of business doesn’t really matter.

There are aspects of my business that I love and some that I don’t. There are tasks I am good at, and and those I am not. In most cases, the “good at” and “enjoy” categories align. There are also the ones I enjoy, while not being particularly good at. But, hey, it’s my business. I can do them if I feel like it, even if I do them poorly.

Then there are those tasks I am capable of doing, but I detest doing them so much that they simply don’t get done, or get done so poorly they might as well not have been done at all. Unfortunately, some of these are tasks that do need to be done if I want the business to grow.

The challenge for me is determining which tasks I absolutely must do myself and which can (and should) be done by someone else. Some of these are obvious. Others are not. And some I have simply been too stubborn to let go of.

When you own your own business, the strong tendency is to assume that you have to do it all yourself. Michael Gerber writes about this extensively in the book, “The E-Myth”. He makes a strong case for working on your business, not in it.

What that boils down to is creating an actual job description for yourself. Assigning tasks to yourself, based on your job description – and even more importantly, NOT doing tasks that are not in your description.

There will always be tasks we must do ourselves that we don’t enjoy doing, or that we are not particularly skilled at doing. At work, at home, in life. But, if we can learn to pause, consider if that is a task that we absolutely must do ourselves, and NOT do it if the answer is “no”, we will be better off.

By handing off tasks we do not enjoy to those who DO enjoy doing them, we are giving them a gift. We are happier because we’re not doing something we hate. They are happier because they get to do more of what they love. It’s a win-win.

Play to your strengths.

The Fun Part

Photo of walk to the water.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What is your view of work? Do you believe it is something you must struggle through in order to get paid? Or, do you think there should be at least some level of enjoyment along the way?

If you’ve noticed the domain that hosts this blog, you know my view.

When I came up with the concept of “Work Should Be Fun”, I knew I was onto something. I knew I was headed in the right direction. How? Because I received a lot of pushback.

People told me, “Oh, that’s too strong. Sure, work CAN be fun. But, should? I don’t know. That seems kind of crazy.”

At the time this started, I was still in an office job. I made no secret of my philosophy. Not everyone agreed with me. It even became somewhat of a running joke among my peers.

When we were experiencing a particularly difficult day, they’d look at me and ask, “Is this the fun part?”

I was reminded of this the other day as I was working on a project in my basement. It wasn’t going especially well. I was frustrated. There might have been a few expletives expressed. My wife said, “But, you’re having fun, right?”

In other words, “Is this the fun part?”

How we deal with work challenges is a choice. How we deal with everyday disappointments is a choice.

We will have disappointments. Work will present challenges. Life will not go according to our plans. We can’t avoid it. But, we do have a choice in how we react.

In that moment of frustration, I had a choice. Would I throw my tools across the basement in disgust and anger? Or would I step back and allow myself to laugh at the situation? And find the willingness to try again?

Surely you’ve heard, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Which do you enjoy more, the journey or the destination?

I think the answer can be both. Sometimes one drives the other.

Consider being on a journey toward a destination you are not eager to reach. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way. If we have enough fun along the journey, we might even forget we didn’t want to get to the destination.

Sometimes the destination is so enticing we’ll do anything to reach it.

Have you ever had one of those rare trips where both the journey and the destination were enjoyable? Count yourself as one of the lucky ones.

When I was a software engineer, I loved the act of coding. The journey itself was fun.

What I do now is more destination driven. This is the “eyes on the prize” model. The end result is so desirable that we will tolerate whatever it takes to achieve it.

The amount of time and effort required to get to the fleeting moment an entertainer gets to spend on stage would probably surprise you. Some of that “journey” work is fun. Some not so much. But, it is worth it. Absolutely worth it.

There will always be aspects of our work that we find less fun than others. We might even find some tasks to be downright distasteful.

I know musicians (and speakers and magicians and ventriloquists…) who hate to practice, but love to perform. I also know musicians who love to practice, but don’t enjoy performing in public. Reality check. No one is going to pay you to practice. You must perform. Likewise, no one is going to pay you to perform if you don’t practice.

I know people in the office who love meetings, and people who despise meetings.

As for me? I hate doing the sales part of my business. But, if I don’t sell, I don’t get to perform, or speak, or coach. Without sales, there is no business.

I know people who love to sell. Someday maybe I will find a way to enjoy that part. Or, more likely, hire one of those who loves to sell, but can’t imagine being on a stage. We’ll both be able to enjoy the journey. In the meantime, I slog through it with eyes on the prize.

How about you?

Do you enjoy the tasks involved in your work? Are you enjoying the journey?

Or are you more motivated by the destination? Do you slog your way through tasks you dislike because you know the result is worth it?

Pick one, or both.

If it’s neither, if you are not enjoying the journey or the destination, if it’s been a long time since you’ve been able to say, “This. This right here. This is the fun part.” you might be due for a change. You might need a new job. You might need a new attitude. You might need both.

Either way, remember…

Work Should Be Fun.

And so should life.

True Crime

Photo of microphone in auditorium
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?

Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?

Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.

In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.

In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.

Why?

Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?

I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?

I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.

And then it happened.

While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.

In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.

You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?

That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.

You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.

I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.

And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.

So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.

I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?

Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.

The Right Tools

A photo of a table David Crone crafted.
An old photo of one of my more ambitious projects. A dutch pullout table. This is still in use today.

Do you have the right tools to do the job ahead of you?

One of the many hobbies I have enjoyed is woodworking. I love to make things. This hobby started like many of my hobbies: I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff I really liked, and was stupid enough to think I could make it myself.

So, I started making stuff. My goal was to build furniture as well as I could for as little money as possible. It was a fun challenge.

I started with a few simple tools and straightforward projects. It’s amazing what you can do with a hand saw, a couple of chisels, and a lot of time.

As my confidence and enthusiasm grew, I started adding to my collection of tools, tackling ever more complex projects. The first major purchase was a table saw.

I was living in an apartment at the time, with limited space and budget. So, I got a small, portable table saw designed more for a construction job site than a fine furniture making shop. But, with care and some creative shop-made accessories (called “jigs”), I was able to do what I needed. It was a big step forward.

Several years later, finally in a house, and with a bit more disposable income, I made the leap to a more substantial table saw. Wow! The difference was amazing.

It’s not that I could suddenly do things I couldn’t do before. But, that everything was easier. What used to take 30 minutes to set up a convoluted series of supports and guides to make a cut now took 30 seconds.

The more I used this new toy (ahem, tool…), the more I kicked myself for not making this investment sooner. And the more I laughed thinking about the gyrations I used to go through to make what was now a simple pass through the saw.

Have you had this experience?

Perhaps you like to bake. Once you move from a hand-held wooden spoon to a KitchenAid stand mixer, everything becomes so much easier.

What are the tools you use every day? Where are you going through complicated gyrations to make it work?

What if you decided to make the investment in a better tool? What would it save you in time and frustration? What additional joy would it bring you every time you use it?

Go for it. Invest in good tools. You’ll be glad you did.

Disappointment

Photo of climbing a rock wall
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What was your last great disappointment?

I don’t mean the regular everyday disappointments, like finding that somebody took the last cup of coffee, or mounted the toilet paper the wrong direction. No. Something that was a really – big – deal.

Mine happened last week. I won’t bore you with the details. Like many of our greatest disappointments, what is a big deal to us often seems trivial to someone else.

Don’t you just hate it when, while you are wallowing in the injustice of it all, someone else hears your tale of woe and points out the insignificance of it in the big picture of life? Yeah. So, I won’t delve into the specifics of this particular issue.

However, I will share that it was a big deal. To me. At the time. Perhaps later we can share with each other the specifics of what last sent us into a pit of personal despair and laugh about how out of proportion our respective reactions were. For now, let us enjoy the pain of that moment in the same way we enjoy picking at a scab and watching with fascination the renewed oozing of blood from the wound.

How long did it take for you to get over your disappointment? How many hours, days, weeks did you spend literally or figuratively lying on the floor thrashing about, pounding the carpet with your fists? How many people had to hear your tale of woe as you dumped your raw feelings of anger and disbelief upon anyone who provided the slightest opening to do so?

Ah, good times.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, is credited with defining the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Known as the Kübler-Ross Model, these 5 stages define the progression of emotional states typical of someone who is terminally ill, and also those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.

What is disappointment? Is it not a sense of great loss? The loss of an idea. The loss of a goal. The loss of a desired outcome. The heartbreak of not getting what we wanted. Deep disappointment hits us in ways similar to grief.

In my biggest times of disappointment, I have definitely experienced Anger and Depression. Denial usually presents itself as disbelief. Bargaining typically plays out as a desire to refute, debate, and argue the decision. Eventually, though, I reach a state of Acceptance. I’m not happy about it, but I accept it. (Well, except for that toilet paper thing. It really needs to come over the top.)

I hope that you are able to reach that point of acceptance in your disappointments.

What differentiates disappointment from grief is what comes after we have reached the state of acceptance.

Do we give up on the goal? Or, do we dig in with renewed determination, learning from the experience?

Sometimes what we fail to achieve is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is no second chance. Most times that is not the case. Sure, if you are an Olympic athlete, you might have to wait another 4 years for your next shot at the gold medal. And maybe you can’t be the first to achieve whatever it was you were targeting. But, so what? You can still go for it.

Maybe that specific job for which you thought you were the perfect match won’t be posted again at that one company until the person who got it instead of you leaves. There are other jobs and other companies.

In my case, the goal I did not achieve can be applied for once per year. The next window of opportunity for submission is not until next January. My intention? To start now in planning and preparation to make my application undeniable.

There are those (I’ve been guilty of it myself) who would suggest that even if you don’t attain the desired goal, even if you don’t win the race, or get the trophy, you are a better person for having gone through the process.

Yeah, right.

I am not a “winning is everything” kind of person. But, when I was a kid playing little league baseball, our coach only took us out for ice cream when we won. And only those who hit a home run got a banana split. It was a great reward for practicing and playing hard. If we didn’t win, we moped and dragged our baseball mitts on our way home. Then we showed up with fresh determination at the next practice.

Allow yourself the time to grieve. Go through however many of the 5 steps you need. Once you’ve reached the “A” for acceptance in the Kübler-Ross Model, add another “A”. Action.

Reset your focus. Determine your next step. Chart a new course. Try again.

Do not allow the disappointment of a single misstep to be the end of the climb.

 

There Is No Joy

Photo of field of spring flowers
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What brings you joy? What holds you back from experiencing it?

Most of us have participated in some form of an exercise designed to help us let go of a deeply held fear or concern. One method that many people have experienced is to write the fear or concern onto a piece of paper and then throw that paper into a fire, allowing the flames to symbolically consume whatever it was that was written on the paper.

Several weeks ago, during lent, I attended an appropriately somber church service on Maundy Thursday. After the service, I made my way through a series of stations for further reflection. At one of these stations, people were encouraged to write a concern onto a Post-It note and stick it to the cross, leaving it there as a way of releasing it and letting go of that concern.

As I sat there, pondering what to write, I glanced up and saw a note someone else had left. It said, “There is no joy.”

Those words struck me deeply.

I think a lot about joy. Joy is my purpose. Joy is at the heart of this blog. Joy drives nearly everything that I do.

At its core, the whole “Work Should Be Fun” concept is about joy.

I can understand not feeling happy. I can understand feeling sadness. I can understand many things. But, I can’t contemplate a life without joy.

Joy runs deep. Even in sadness, anger, or frustration, there can be joy.

To me, sadness is not the opposite of joy. Sad is the opposite of happy. Both are surface level sensations of the moment. They come and go.

Joy is eternal. It is deeply rooted. I find joy and hope to be more closely linked than joy and happiness.

The absence of hope is despair. So, for someone to say, “There is no joy,” says to me that they feel utter despair. They lack hope.

Without hope, we might as well sit down and give up. Hope keeps us going, even when things look bleak.

Joy and hope are inextricably connected.

Do you see the joy around you? It is everywhere. It is especially visible in this season of springtime. Take a moment to look around and see it. Then find a way to share it with others.

Take a moment to connect with another person. Walk down the hall, into the next cubicle, or talk with the person at the cash register. Share a few words. Smile. See the beauty that is all around. For just a moment, ignore the trash in the roadside ditch, look beyond the dirty dishes piling up in the sink, look away from the pile of unread emails in your inbox.

Experience joy.

 

What Do You Think?

Photo of Llama
Photo copyright ©2010 David J Crone. All rights reserved

“What do you think?”

Have you ever asked that question? Did you get the answer you were hoping to hear?

Here are a few scenarios:

  • You just served a meal that you spent a week researching and 4 hours preparing.
  • You finally opened up to a friend about a new direction for your life that you have been nervous to share with anyone.
  • You shared a new logo for your company that is fresh from the graphic designer.
  • After weeks of preparing in private, you delivered a final test run of your presentation to a friend or trusted colleague 2 days before the big event at which you are to deliver it.

When you ask that question, what are you really seeking? Most of us, when we ask that question, are seeking affirmation. We want to hear, “That was great!” Or, “I loved it!”

Sometimes we are looking for feedback on a specific aspect. Was there too much salt? Do you like this color in the logo? That photo on slide 23, was it too much?

What we often get is something we didn’t expect. Our friends and family, in an effort to be helpful, often take this opportunity to offer feedback on some aspect of what you shared that is outside of what we needed to hear at that moment. Or, they express something in general terms, where what we needed to hear were the specifics of what made them think that.

The result is that we feel crushed. Deflated. Hurt. Maybe even angry.

We think: How could they be so insensitive? Why do they always go for the jugular? See, this is why I don’t ask for feedback. All I get is negativity.

Soliciting and receiving feedback is a skill. It takes practice to develop. You might even call it an art.

If you are not getting the feedback you are looking for, it might not be the thing that you are soliciting feedback about that is the problem. It might simply be that you are asking for it in the wrong way.

Of course, sometimes what we just shared really did suck. But, I’m not talking about those times. I’m not too concerned about those instances because I trust that each of us, inside, knows when that is the case.

We’re all familiar with the dreaded question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” We can laugh about it, but that’s actually a great question. It is specific as to the feedback being sought. It is not a general question, such as, “What do you think of my outfit?” It is specific about one article: the pants. And it is not generic in the request, such as, “Do you like these pants?” No. It is clear that the one thing the person asking is concerned about is whether those pants, specifically, make them look fat.

My advice when soliciting feedback is to be specific in what you ask. Be clear to the person about what would be most helpful to you.

Instead of, “What do you think?”, ask something specific. Here are a few examples:

  • For that meal: How was the spice level? Too hot? Not hot enough?
  • For that new direction in your life: Knowing me as you do, what is the biggest aspect of this that surprises you?
  • The new logo: Does this make you want to know more, or run away?
  • The presentation: Did the images help you connect with what I was saying? Which ones worked best? Which ones did not?

If we do find ourselves asking the question, “What do you think?”, probe deeper into the response. If the answer is, “I hated it.”, ask, “Why?” Go for the specifics. You might have served a meal that contained a lot of cooked carrots. I can’t stand cooked carrots. Everything else about it was great. But, that one detail set me off. My response to the question of, “Did you like it?” would have likely been a simple, “No.” Don’t be offended. Dig deeper. Find out why.

The same goes if the response is, “I loved it!” Why? What about it, specifically, did you most enjoy?

Then, with that information in hand, you can decide what, if anything, you are going to do with it. Maybe you love cooked carrots and the group of people you are planning to serve that same meal to next week also love cooked carrots. Go with it. Just don’t invite me.

A key component of soliciting feedback is to remember that each person’s opinion is simply one data point. That one person might not even be a good representative of the intended audience for whatever it is we have solicited the feedback.

Ultimately, we need to trust our gut.

What do you think?