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:

  1. You should talk more about managing your inner critic.
  2. Why didn’t you give more information about managing your inner critic?
  3. 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.


  1. Opens hearts.
  2. Enables connection
  3. Empowers exploration.
  4. 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:

  1. Approach issues with forward-facing compassion and curiosity.
  2. Adopt a shoulder-to-shoulder style. We’re in this together.
  3. Avoid a know-it-all attitude.
  4. Practice transparency regarding your weaknesses.
  5. 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!)