I’ve been circling around this article for years to be honest… on a recent flight while skimming through my notes I finally spotted the various angles I had been thinking of, and now hopefully I have a clear enough view to convert them into something coherent and helpful.
So here are the questions I kept mulling over
- How do you know when it’s best to hold your opinions, styles, attitudes verse knowing it may be best to change them. For a better outcome, better relationships, less conflict, a happier self, etc?
- Are you being ‘true to yourself’ or are you just an ass hole people would prefer to avoid?
- Then, in any case, who can you trust for reflection and feedback?
I’m not sure if it has always been this way but I suspect with the increase in social media the visibility and ease of ‘feedback’ has increased a lot. Either subtle or direct, these days we seem to live in a world in which people feel it is their right to tell you what they think about you and the things you need to change. For as much as I have gained from them, perhaps the professional development and self-help industries contribute as well, promoting a culture of couch psychologists handing out opinions at any opportunity. So it isn’t just at work or at home, all this comparing, the opinions, the feedback can come from many places in our lives.
As someone with a few years under his belt, there came a point (many years ago actually) when I stopped listening. It may sound extreme but I haven’t actually read a performance review for over 5 years now. I guess in some ways I couldn’t find a safe technique to know how to remain so open to it all without losing myself. I didn’t know how to evaluate new techniques, information, feedback etc and compare them to who I was and how I operated to know what to change or not.
Behind all this was two of my own key core beliefs;
- I have enough experience and knowledge now to challenge information and other people’s thoughts.
- Everything offered is merely someone else’s knowledge, core beliefs, biases, etc. The more I learnt about people the more I spotted their agendas at play, rather than an honest open approach to learning/sharing or interest in my well-being. Not their fault as we all do it, but once I understood the drivers I found what others had to offer of no value because of why it was offered (control, their own fear etc).
You may be being told ‘oh your just not open’, no ‘growth mindset’ etc which knocked me off centre a little and is something I still try to challenge and test with myself.
So back to my questions. And when I speak to people they often ask me this style of question; am I just being myself or am I nasty / unreasonable / an ass hole. I think this has a really easy test – are you hurting or negatively impacting/impairing others? I would love for someone to test this one with me because for as long as I have thought about it I can’t really find a scenario where my actions, words or approach could be right if I hurt someone else. Even feedback or performance management can be done in a way where people are looked after and their well-being is front of mind. We can all learn the skills to achieve this.
The harder question is how do we know if it is best to hold on to who we are, or take on new thinking or styles etc. For me, it is only through having other people to bounce off, which isn’t as simple as it sounds unfortunately. I have another article on the boil around the use of conversation to seek understanding and I think this falls into the same category. It is nearly impossible, and in fact I would say it is impossible for us to always be able to develop, learn and adjust without others. We need them as sounding boards. We need them just to help us verbalise our thoughts and beliefs because it engages different parts of the brain. We need to hear their thoughts and hold a dialog with them.
So why is that so hard? *chuckles* Well basically for the reasons I mentioned before around why I tend to dismiss a lot of information. You have to wade through the biases and core beliefs, or if you can, hold them in awareness during the conversation. Everyone, even professionals, your best friends, your family, they all bring their own beliefs etc to every conversation. Most the time they aren’t even aware of it and it is a real gift to find someone truly able to put themselves completely aside to help you. Or at least have enough awareness and be able to share why they have formed their beliefs etc.
There are only really a few key considerations I would put forward though to help.
- Find people that are objective – friends and family are wonderfully supportive and important but may not be objective as you need.
- Find people that can be honest – harder to judge, but most of us won’t always be able to be honest around sensitive topics. Be aware of how they respond, if they tell you what you want to hear or tell you not to worry when something just isn’t right then chances are they are the wrong person.
- Learn yourself – self-awareness is an essential tool for observing why you do certain things or make certain choices. For example if you knew you had a tendency to avoid conflict then wouldn’t that be a wonderful lens to discuss your conflict resolution skills through.
- Learn others – if you can, develop knowledge about how people tick so you can also temper feedback and information through that lens.