Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me?!

I recently met a woman who needed to advance her role in the organization.  She was very technically intelligent; a go-to person for her group. She was checking all the career development boxes and fully expected this to put her on the path to promotion. Yet,  no work opportunities were opening up for her.  She didn’t know that others didn’t want to work with her.  You’ve met people like her, right?

We are often blind to our characteristics and behaviors that are obvious to others. They won’t tell you, but they will talk about it with others. It is easier to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth than to tell them they are obnoxious. And its easier to hear about the spinach than it is to be labeled obnoxious, or any other undesirable trait. When someone does have the courage, or is frustrated enough to blurt it out, too often we defensively respond with a retaliating, emotional remark and behavior or denial. Who wants to have to deal with, or live with that?

True, not everyone is skilled in these conversations. Perhaps, I’d rather not tell you than deal with the way you would respond.   There are two issues of trust here: (1) telling someone about something they can change – such as a behavior – because you want to see them succeed, and (2) receiving the information as it is intended, not as an attack.

If someone tells me I am obnoxious – I want to know what I’m doing and saying that I come across in an obnoxious manner.  Specific examples of what I said and did (behavior) are most helpful. I need to ask for details and specificity, not a judgment,  in order to know what to do differently and why. If I defend myself, I set up a barrier to any further candid conversations.

Other ways to we tend to respond in these uncomfortable conversations is to dismissg the feedback thinking that, “They haven’t seen me in any other context” or “They are seeing me through what they want me to be, not who I really am.” Consider the source, but also consider how this same aspect might be seen by others.

Often we blame others – “It’s not my fault…” Taking responsibility and ‘owning’ your strengths well as your limitations is the path to being trustworthy and accountable.

Another barrier is to rationalize or say something like, “Oh you don’t understand that I was just trying to…” then that defensive response will discourage any further honesty.  “Yes but…” It isn’t constructive to justify your behavior as an atypical response necessitated by a particular situation or series of events.

Arguing, or denial are all powerful negative emotions, making the conversation more challenging  than necessary. Telling the person why they’re feedback is wrong will not work.

Avoid interrupting or finishing the other person’s thoughts gives the impression that you don’t really want to hear what they have to say.

Don’t sulk or withdraw either.  This will not encourage the person to be honest with you in the future. They may even avoid you.

Chewing over feedback again and again will not make it clearer or easier to understand, particularly if the feedback is less than glowing. Avoid the temptation to re-enact the conversation to a friend as this only re-engages your emotions. Do talk about it with someone else, but make sure you’re emotionally detached first so you can determine actions to correct the offense.

So whether its a co-worker, significant other, or roommate, if they had the courage to tell you, then don’t punish them with your response.

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