How do you respond when someone offers you a suggestion?
Consider this scenario. Imagine you just gave a presentation. Afterwards, your boss says, “It was good, but you included too much detail, next time make it crisper.”
How do you react? Do you feel the need to explain why you did what you did? Do you feel deflated? Do you interpret her remarks as coaching, or a critique?
The way you interpret and respond to “suggestions” can be the difference between a life of inner turmoil, and mediocrity, or a life of happiness and success. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.
When someone offers you a suggestion, there are three basic responses:
The defensive person always wants to explain. “But you don’t understand, here’s why I included it.” In other words, I was right to do what I did. Or sometimes they’ll shift the responsibility, “I was told to do it that way by the last person.” In other words it’s not my fault.
The person is protecting their ego from what they perceive to be the sting of critique. But it comes at a cost. Here’s what goes through the boss’s head: This person isn’t getting it. Should I try again, or just give up on them? Educating people about why you’re right (and their suggestion is wrong) doesn’t make people think more highly of you. It simply frustrates them. They’re less likely to offer advice in the future and they perceive you as resistant to growth.
I see this play out all the time. For example, my mentor Alan Weiss coaches a number of other consultants. In group sessions, I routinely observe consultants ask him for advice, then respond defensively when they get it. Weiss is tough on people, and blunt. He’s also usually right. Over the years, I’ve noticed, the people who get defensive make the least progress.
This person interprets coaching as an indicator of failure. Suggestions are not small tweaks, they’re huge insurmountable obstacles. They respond by saying things like, “You’re right, I’m a total idiot (jerk, fool, slob, etc.) On the surface it seems like they’re validating the suggestion. In reality, they’re deflecting responsibility for taking action. They can’t change because it’s not just one thing, it’s everything, and who can fix that?
Defensive and defeated people assume suggestions are critiques. This insecurity has a chilling effect on relationships and their success. Both responses – defensive and defeated – enable the receiver to avoid change, and stay powerless. Both attitudes block you from the wisdom of others and put a wall between you and someone trying to help you.
Coachable people respond differently. They assume suggestions are meant to help them. If someone says, “You included too many details,” they ask, “How could I do it differently next time?” A “tell me more response” draws the other person in. The conversation becomes more focused and productive, with no wasted time on posturing.
Coachable people believe life is malleable. They know they have the power to change themselves and thus their circumstances. They also know listening to advice doesn’t mean you have to take it. Coachable people get more out of their peers and mentors because people perceive them as open and action oriented.
Who would you rather work (or live) with, the person who gets defensive or defeated by suggestions? Or the person who asks, “How can I get better?”
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