Monday, November 17, 2008

Anyone can be a critic

As a consultant and a business owner you know often you walk a lonely path. You life and you living come from solving other people’s problems and being paid for that. Yet so often you find back seat drivers who people quick to point out everything you did and or doing wrong and how they would have done it. If your are fortunate you have strong ego defenses that while it bothers you allows you to process the information for what it is. Often people criticism of you is in fact a backhanded compliment.

Let me use this example – have you ever been driving and the person in the passenger or rear seat shouted directions telling you how they would do it? Though I am not a fan of sports a good example is the sideline or armchair coach – they criticize the couch of the team who is on the field playing the game. I am not saying for not listen but take other people’s criticisms of you with a grain of salt. So often they are doing so because you remind them of who and what they could have been or done but instead of accepting and admitting you are a mirror for their shortcomings they protect their frustration and disappointment on you. I know its not fair but it is a part of owning a business. – yet I would say listen selectively and be humble because sometimes even they have a valid point albeit more of the exception than the rule. A harsh truth is that if they were capable of doing it instead of telling you about it they would be business actually doing and teaching you be their example. Are their exceptions – sure, but so often people fail, its their fault and instead of being an adult and admitting to their shortcoming and inability to grow and change they talk about and criticize you – not because you are wrong either.

I personally can give you many reasons why stuff cannot be done. I am an engineer which by definition means I am OCD and observant of things many people miss even sometimes in themselves. Now let me ask you what good does it do me or my client to tell them why they cannot have or do something? Does it really help them? Sure I may for a second feel good because I made them look stupid but know what they are going to remember that I was the person who eroded their self esteem and destroyed their plans. Do you think they get enough of that already?

Let me personalize this for a second when a person asks you to be a consultant, service provider, or even a close friend they are risking themselves and admitting vulnerability to you. The know there is a problem and are asking you to help them solve it not tell them how wrong are stupid they are. They are looking for guidance, patience, understanding, empathy, tolerance and wisdom – bet you never realized all that was taking place – I know. Because they are in a vulnerable state what they need from you is help building them up not tearing them down. They need your help and reassurance so that they have confidence in their choice and you. I am not speaking empty praise, but genuine help. When they share an idea they do not need it torn down, instead what they need are viable alternatives or suggestions on how their idea can be made to work.

I know people say business is not personal, I am here to tell you it is so long as people are involved it is personal. When a person losses their job it is personal to them, when a person does not get a bonus it is personal to them, when a person is disrespected or belittled it is personal to them. I know this if counter to what the books tell you after all in MBA they stress here are the theories of business its not personal but tell that to the person being affected – it’s not about you they do not want to hear that because to them at that moment is all about them and nothing else

I thought this post was about clients, why am I taking about how people treat me – what does that have to do with anything it a tangent! Actually no its not wanted you to internalize the feelings as I wrote and understand how it affects you so when I start taking about the client you star seeing it at least somewhat through their eyes.

So where am I going with this, remember your client owns or manages a business like you and your staff. When you speak think about how you would respond to what you are about to say. Would you have a warm fuzzy? Would you be willing to call that person back and seek their advice in the future. Sure you can be abrasive and right, but imagine how much more effective you will be when you learn how to convey a solution and make that person feel good about the fact that they shared a vulnerability or weakness with you or your business. If you have two consultants, both were right but one was abrasive and said “that is the most stupid idea I ever hear let me tell you how I would do it!” and the other understood you are exposing yourself to them tried to find creative ways to make your idea work or offered plausible alternatives “That is an interesting idea, lets explore it, you know if we take this element and that and do this I think we can accomplish what you are trying to do!” which would you hire and want. Both were honest, both were right, one took your feelings into account and the other …well!

Do not be a critic – that is the easy way out and truthfully it takes no effort to tear anyone down. Heck as people we are conditioned such that it is almost second nature. Sure in the short term you will feel good but rest assured it will cost you. I know the other is quicker and to the point and short term resolves the issue, but it also creates a sense of animosity, the other takes real work and skill and a longer time to do but you know the other benefit is because you are respecting them and taking that extra time to listen and soothe their ego and investing yourself in them, those people will also be willing to pay you more and remain loyal to you in the long run.

Bottom line really is why are you in business and is it for the long or the short haul the answer to that simple question will really dictate the approach you take.

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