Tag Archives: Criticism

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.

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Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

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

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