How to Avoid Distraction and Focus on Real Issues
Mary* approached, after a recent presentation and said, “I wanted to hear more about dealing with your inner critic.”
She could have said:
- You should talk more about managing your inner critic.
- Why didn’t you give more information about managing your inner critic?
- You didn’t spend enough time on managing a loud inner critic.
“YOU should,” and, “Why didn’t YOU,” invite self-protective responses.
Defensiveness distracts from real issues.
Self-protection becomes explanation and accusations. Critics explain why you’re wrong. You explain why you’re right.
Self-protection leads to self-justification. Conversation stalls.
Courage to say, “I”:
Mary didn’t play the “Woe is me,” card. She didn’t blame me for her frustration.
Mary said, “I wanted to hear more about dealing with the inner critic.” The use of “I” made all the difference.
- Opens hearts.
- Enables connection
- Empowers exploration.
- Focuses conversation on forward movement.
Mary explained that she beats herself up after she makes a mistake. “It can go on for a couple weeks.”
(During the presentation she heard me say, “I have a loud inner-critic that’s whispering, ‘Loser,’ in my ear.” I form a “L” with my finger and thumb and hold it to my forehead.)
I responded to Mary, “I know what you mean. It’s like circling a black hole.”
5 ways to open hears:
- Approach issues with forward-facing compassion and curiosity.
- Adopt a shoulder-to-shoulder style. We’re in this together.
- Avoid a know-it-all attitude.
- Practice transparency regarding your weaknesses.
- Advance the agenda in ways that leverage each other’s strengths more than pointing out each other’s weaknesses.
Some leaders tell you what you should have said or done. In this case, Mary’s courage to say, “I,” made it safe to have a conversation.
How might leaders lower protective barriers in themselves?
How might leaders create safe environments where conversations can focus on issues more than each other?
For a future post: What suggestions do you have for managing a loud inner-critic?
*Mary is a substitute for her real name.
Bonus video: Amy Edmondson, author of, “The Fearless Organization,” on the Power of Being Wrong. (Check out my bushy beard!)
This is great topic and I would be interested in hearing more on how to manage that loud voice in your head. For myself, I’ve adopted reflective practices that help me “hear” my thoughts, then I find I can work to change negativity into optimism more easily. I continue to find this topic challenging and it can be frustrating that leading myself to respond in the ways I want to respond takes so much time and effort.
This is an important topic for leaders to remember how their actions and expectations carry an organization. If the leaders show compassion and at times are vulnerable and providing a “shoulder-to-shoulder” mentality, you will get less “woe is me” attitude. I believe it allows for someone else to reflect on the behavior they’ve observed and what that means for them.
Oh, I really enjoyed reading this. I will definitely be taking this and putting it in my toolbox. I never really knew the way you ask a question can make someone defensive or protective. I think leaders can lower their protective barriers by connecting and vulnerable. Additionally, allowing people to ask those problematic question questions and give honest feedback. I would then provide them with feedback on asking questions that put people on the defensive or self-protective.
That’s a difficult question in regards to the safe environment. I think if you have mature employees that know they are there for a job or a mission. Otherwise, some serious conversations need to be had with the individuals that aren’t taking the environment seriously.
We all have our own demons or critics. I actually sought out mental health because I was super nervous about speaking in public. “Super Nervous.” After seeing the provider, we came to a conclusion, that it was a form of anxiety. The provider told me that everyone has a form of it. That actually kinda helped me. Regardless, I think to have someone to confide in or to speaking with a professional would it help whenever those inner critics come out.
This is great language to use in criticism. People don’t hear you when you yell accusations. They listen when you’re vulnerable.