In his article, 10 Reasons why Managers are Clueless about Leadership, Dan McCarthy states: “Most managers (and people) have no idea how they come across to others. …We tend to assess ourselves based on our intentions, while others assess us by what they see and hear.”
Today I’m going to discuss one of my character flaws: I shoot my words from the hip, and then when I hit my target I am filled with regret. This past week I’ve had that gut-wrenching, bottom-drops-out feeling I get when I’ve said something I shouldn’t have. I’ve thought about it carefully and I’ve come to the conclusion that my intention wasn’t wrong, but my method was lacking.
Last week, I was part of a group tasked with observing a presentation and providing a critique. As I watched I took thoughtful notes and was pleased to find in the end that I had only a few very tiny tweaks to recommend. But, there was one problem: the presentation had not ended; it had only paused. What followed, I deemed superfluous. I also thought it inappropriate and figured it might be offensive to our anticipated audience.
As the presenters sat down, basking in the success
of a completed presentation, I spoke up. Unasked, I started with the few simple suggestions, which were accepted with grace and quick scratches of a pen to paper. Then, in a concise, straight-to-the-point way, I suggested dropping the entire last scene, and explained why I felt it wasn’t helpful. That is where I messed up. Not only did I bring the relaxed and celebratory mood to a screeching halt, but I had not considered that the presenter had a vested and very personal interest in writing that ending. My comment created discord in the group.
The team leader let the conversation continue for a moment and then brought us back to the center. After listening to the presenter’s reasons for including the ending, I realized that I was in the wrong. The ending stayed, and with a few tweaks, the issues that I thought inappropriate and offensive were fixed.
If I could roll back to last week, this is what I would change:
- I would wait until the leader asked for feedback instead of jumping in with my critique.
- I’d keep my What the Voice is Saying poem in my wallet and pull it out prior to speaking. By reading the poem first, my comments would have been better timed and more thoughtful.
- If the leader did not call for comments, I would have asked him during a break when he would be soliciting our thoughts.
- Rather than just going for the presenter’s jugular, I think I should have led with a few questions, such as Can you tell me a little bit about the last scene? or What is the goal of ending in this way? That would have helped me to focus my comments on what was really important.
Dan McCarthy is right on target: I evaluated myself by my good intentions, while my team had only my words and actions to use in their assessment. I truly hope that I will someday master this lesson: think, and then speak only helpful words.
Hindsight is useful, but so is an apology. Thus, I leave you now to reach out to my team. I will hip-holster my verbal pea-shooter, or better yet, check it at the door. Then I will thank them all for gracefully accepting my less-than-articulate suggestions.