Tag Archives: advice

Criticism, Calm, and Clicking Reply

20 Apr

Here’s what I saw the first time I read an email:

Subject Line: You Suck!

You slavish boor,

You should be damned to a lifetime in hell for every minute of my team’s time you squandered.  Your moronic suggestions are signs of an addled mind.  How dare you question my God-like intellect?  If you want to continue to make an ass out of yourself, you should think twice (if thinking happens to be in your skill set) and then vow never to speak again.

I hate you,

XXXXXXXXX

What the email actually said:

Subject Line: A Concern

Dear John,

I wish we would have known about your opinions before our team put together this initial draft.  I understand your concerns, but I disagree for these reasons.  My experience tells me our plan will work.  If you want to continue this discussion, please brainstorm with your boss and take a look at other prototypes that we’ve created.

Have a great weekend,

XXXXXXXXXXX

This is me 2

Criticism does weird things to our eyes.  It makes us see things—personal vendettas, disrespect, and embarrassing insults—that just aren’t there.  My first reading of the email above left me shaking in anger and unable to think of anything else.  Twenty minutes later, I read the email again.  The condescending tone and personal jabs that were shouting at me were no longer there.  The email was a civil criticism of my work and nothing more.

Too often, we interpret criticism through the lens of our own insecurities, not through the actual words of our colleagues.  When we’re heavily invested in a project, when our work reflects our blood, sweat, and tears, it’s natural to perceive criticism of our work as a personal assault.

But it’s not.

For your own sake, when you receive criticism, calm down and let the message simmer for twenty minutes.  Then read it again BEFORE you click reply.   You’ll be amazed at how your eyes fooled you and how the malicious tone of the criticism has melted away.

My Marketing Haiku

13 Mar

Marketing is a smile

Red-robed impression

That allures, excites, disarms.

But the product talks.

smile

Two For Every One

10 Mar

“Criticizes the ideas of others without ever offering an idea or solution of his own.  Drains the room of energy.  Not a forward thinker.”

That was me.  No wonder my colleagues left me out of group lunches.

criticism

But after reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, all of that has changed.  In his book, Lehrer describes “plussing,” the act of  bringing a new idea or tweak to the table after you criticize someone else’s idea.  Your idea, “the plus,” softens the criticism and provides a new or altered plan.  I’ve taken plussing a step further: I now hold myself accountable to the two for every one rule.

It works like this.  Every time I criticize a co-worker’s idea, I have to offer two ideas of my own.  The ideas can be tweaks on the plan I’m criticizing or entirely new solutions.

Why is the two for every one rule game-changing?

1)      It leads to idea generation.  When a plan is shot-down without any new ideas surfacing, everyone involved leaves depressed.  The two for every one rule guarantees that when an idea is axed, new ideas are generated.

2)      It creates a team atmosphere by forcing everyone to try to find a solution.  We can no longer criticize a plan and then remain aloof, leaving the work of finding a solution to others.  When we’re forced to offer two new ideas for every criticism, we’re committed to trying  to solve the problem, not just point it out.

3)      It puts everyone on the chopping block.  By forcing everyone to offer their own ideas, it opens up everyone to criticism and critique.  When everyone is exposed, no one person feels ganged up on.

 

It’s much easier to point out flaws in the ideas of others than come up with your own plans, which makes following this rule is extremely hard.   But I’m slowly but surely implementing the two for every one rule across my life.

The early results: I’m an idea-generator like never before, colleagues ask for my opinion more often because I offer compelling and constructive feedback, and people seem genuinely happy to see me at meetings. 

imagine

The Little Man That Sits On Your Shoulder

1 Mar

The little man that sits on your shoulder is usually a mischief maker.  He whispers naughty things in your ear and urges you to do no good.

Shoulder Devil

But a different kind of little man is described in The Art of The Start, one who doesn’t tempt you to make trouble, but keeps you on track during your presentations.

When I present, I’m constantly reminding myself that what others get of my presentation is my #1 consideration—that the audience is all that matters.  But when we start talking, it’s VERY easy to lose sight of this.  We begin to ramble, the focus on our audience disappearing.  We say everything we want to say, not just what the audience needs to hear.  Soon, the session is more about us, and less about everyone else in the room.

Here are two guards against this mistake:

  1. Write an e on the back of your hand.
  2. Guy Kawasaki’s little man trick.  When he gives a presentation, Kawasaki imagines that there’s a little man sitting on his shoulder, asking him “So What?” after everything he says.  “How does this help the audience?  Why is it important?  How can they use it?”  If the talking point is important, it’s worth explaining further and making crystal-clear.  If it doesn’t help the audience in some way, cut it.  Simple as that.

Two little tricks, same result: a presentation that’s not only focused on your audience, but moves others to action.  I use both now.  So should you.

A New Type of Grading

23 Feb

A teacher scribbles a breakdown of the last exam grades on the projector: 65 A’s, 107 B’s, 98 C’s, and 43 F’s.  Average: 82.5.

A number of students feel great because they easily beat the average.  Others feel shitty—they blew it and seeing all those A’s is salt in the wound.  And then the grades are erased from the board.

But instead of just reporting the grades, what if the instructor offered this instead: if the class average on the next exam increases by five points, everyone gets five bonus points on the next exam.

Or what if she went a step further, putting students in small groups with an equal distribution of A, B, and C students in each group?  And offered each student five bonus points if his group’s next exam average increased by five points? 

Would students work harder, knowing that classmates are counting on them?  Collaborate more?  Form study groups and foster a community of learning rather than just trying to master the content solo?

Group incentives in higher education are on my mind, but the logic applies to everything we do:

The next time I run a contest for my sales force, I’ll break the reps into small groups and incentivize the performance of each group, not just individuals.  The result I expect: sales reps will not only work harder, feeling accountable to one another, but share valuable advice with other members of their group, teaching their colleagues how to be more successful.

Too often in life, we reward winners and brand others as “losers” without providing any reason for individuals to help one another.  What we should be doing is incentivizing collaboration and the success of the entire group.  If we want better results, we need a new type of grading.

Money Is Like Honey. It Attracts Every Bear.

30 Jan

If you’re trying to seed the market for sales reps.  If you’re trying to introduce big potential customers to your brand by setting up product trials and reviews.  Then incentivize those people with money.

Money is like honey; it’ll lure the big bears to climb your tree. 

brown-bear-climbing-a-tree-attracted-by-honey

But if learning is what you’re after.  If you’re really interested in feedback that will improve your product.  Then find customers who will try your product or attend your focus group for free.  Seek out those consumers that care enough about what you do that they’re willing to give up their time at no cost to make your product better.

The best feedback comes from those that don’t need to be paid to give it. 

If making a big sale is all you’re after, attract the big bears with lots of honey.  But if knowledge is your goal, often times the most important incentive is no incentive at all.

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