Tag Archives: Work

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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Subtle Cues And Crabs

15 Apr

If you tug too quickly on the string, the crab drops the chicken and sidesteps away.  If you drop the net in the water too aggressively, the ripples frighten off your prey.  It’s only when you pull the string in one finger width at a time, when the crab realizes it’s being hunted only after it’s in your net, that you land your catch.

Crabbing

Click to see some crabbing on a string!

I recently began using an iPad in sales calls.  It’s a powerful tool for product demos, but it scared away my prospects.  Why?

To ensure I could quickly launch into a demo, I flipped open the case cover and logged in before sales calls.  In an industry where prospects give sales people a very limited amount of time to present their wares, I thought having my iPad ready for action would be a strategic advantage.

But as soon as I walked into a prospect’s office, his eyes shifted to my open iPad and his pupils dilated in fear.  The iPad was my net, and I had clearly dipped it into the water too early.  Before I even got to qualify, nonetheless demo my product, the prospect darted away like a crab.

Revealing our sales tools too early and rushing to make our pitch is a sure way to scare off our catch.   And sometimes, it’s just a subtle cue, a signal of the demo to come, that alarms our prospects.  In my case it was the open iPad.

As soon as I realized my mistake and closed the case before walking into offices, my prospects opened up to me again.

Are you scaring away your crab?

My Office Gave Me A Reputation

8 Apr

When I began my new job, I didn’t decorate my office for months.  Why?  Because I wanted to really hit the ground running.  Beautifying my work space could come later.

My high level of productivity and my Spartan office led co-workers to form these first impressions of me:

1)      I’m an extremely hard worker (which I am).

2)      I’m not creative.  Why did they think this?  My bare, slightly dirty walls gave off the impression of someone who hadn’t thought creatively about his office, and my colleagues took this as a sign that I wasn’t very creative.

I’ve struggled to shed this uncreative label ever since.

Your first weeks in the workplace are like your clothes on a first date.  They’re used by others to form opinions of you.  And for good or bad, work reputations tend to persist, whether they’re entirely accurate or not:

  • You will be given work based on these first impressions that will only strengthen that initial reputation.  If you’re deemed a creative thinker, you’ll be given creative projects to work on.  Your creativity working on these projects will strengthen your reputation for being creative.  Conversely, you may miss out on opportunities based on first impressions, which makes it harder to shed or alter those labels.
  • First impressions aren’t always reassessed.  The colleagues we work closely with  have constant contact with us on which to reassess and alter their opinions.  However, especially in larger companies, there are colleagues with whom we rarely interact.  These co-workers rely on their first impressions and hearsay when deciding what we’re like.  With these colleagues, a first impression is sometimes all you get.

 

My office today...still needs a little work, but at least there's something on the walls!

My office today…still needs a little work, but at least there’s something on the walls!

I’m not saying that first impressions in the workplace can’t be changed.  If you’re at a company worth working for (like mine), your work will eventually shine through.  But first impressions are an important reality of the work place, and we’re all served well by doing three things:

1)      When you start a new job or join a new team, think hard about how you want to be known and take action to convey those things about you.

2)      It’s worth taking the time to get to know people you don’t work closely with.  You owe it yourself to give these colleagues an idea of who you really are.  Don’t let first impressions or office talk determine what people think of you.

3)      Make extra effort to brag about yourself.  It’s worth doing modest self-promotion to highlight the qualities you want to be known for, especially when first impressions are so sticky.  My colleague posts an impressive day-by-day itinerary of her business travel on her door when she’s out of the office.  It’s a subtle, but effective way of demonstrating how hard she’s working.

And of course, decorate your office right away.

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?

 

The Bad Idea Revolution

21 Mar

Bob Marley.  Les Mis.  America.  Revolutions are sexy.  Which is why I’m hesitant to write this blog post.  How to kill the bad idea revolution.  But here it goes.

I love my colleague.  But recently, he had an ill-founded idea for a new product feature.  When I found out about it, I vowed I’d soon voice my concerns.

“The time to stop a revolution is at the beginning, not the end.”  –Adlai Stevenson

But I didn’t act for a few days.  Things got busy and talking to him kept on slipping down my to-do list.  By the time I did, my colleague had already converted two disciples and drafted an initial plan.  I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was decided.  The bad idea revolution was in motion.

Bad ideas are just ideas until one of three things occur:  

1)      The bad idea attracts at least one follower.

2)      The revolutionary has time to develop a concrete plan.

3)      The tiniest of first steps is made to start executing the plan.

These three things take time.  It might be two hours or two weeks before a colleague with a bad idea can attract a follower or devise a plan.  The key is to confront the person with your concerns before these events ever happen.  If one of these events does occur, you’re no longer fighting just an idea.  You’re fighting a bad idea revolution.

revolution

If a bad idea does becomes a revolution, here are two additional tactics to try:

1) Convince another colleague of the risks inherent in the idea.  Ignoring one colleague is easy.  Ignoring a group of colleagues is not.

2)  Use the two for every one rule to come prepared with alternatives.

It’s not as sexy to kill a revolution as it is to start one, but sometimes it’s just as important.  Act swiftly to kill bad ideas, before others become committed to them.  You’ll create space for other, important ideas to breathe.

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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