As a business consultant, I try to keep up on the ideas put forward in the latest business books, as well as new trends in our industry. However, some of the best advice I’ve received came a few years ago from a friend in the industry, who told me: “Don’t let people in.”
Yes, I’m aware that sounds like one of those enigmatic Zen phrases; like “the sound of one hand clapping” or “the space between thoughts.” I have to admit that it took me awhile to fully understand what he meant. Once I did figure it out, that idea has helped me greatly, not only in my business, but in my personal life as well.
(Related: The Four People Advisors Need on Their Team Before Trouble Starts)
Turns out that what he was saying is really very simple. His point was that we shouldn’t take what other people say to heart. At least, not until we’ve determined that it’s warranted. I believe that owner-advisors are particularly sensitive when it comes to business because they usually don’t have any formal business training or experience.
Of course, that doesn’t mean someone else knows what they are talking about either. It helps me to remember that information from other sources is just that — information. As such, before we take it as fact and act on it, we need to analyze it. Here’s how I’ve learned to determine the value of what other people say:
Consider the source. I know, this sounds pretty obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a call from a client saying they have changed their mind about a plan we made together because their spouse or assistant didn’t think it was a good idea. (Before I get a flood of comments scolding me for disrespecting spouses and assistants, having been both, I can report that neither position gives one any special business insight.)
When someone disagrees with one of your ideas, or even attacks you personally, try to focus on them rather than on you. Why are they saying this? What does it say about them? More importantly, what’s their stake in this conversation?
Often, employees will go on the offensive when they’ve made a mistake to transfer the blame to you or someone else. And, of course, your decisions can affect them personally: their job, their compensation, their advancement or their status. Rather than deal with these conflicts, it’s often easier for them to just focus their anger or fears on you.
Make an honest assessment. Leaders are only human (yes, that goes for most business leaders, too) so we tend to get a bit defensive when we’re attacked. However, for the sake of our businesses, and our own personal growth, it’s important that we determine whether a criticism is warranted.