I get by, with a little help, from my friends

converseallstarsArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I don’t like it when someone offers advice to me when I didn’t ask for it.  You know those people who always have a better way of doing something, and are more than happy to share it with you?  How does it make you feel?  And how about when someone offers some ‘constructive criticism’ on the way you did something when you honestly weren’t even looking to them for input?

I went swing dancing a few weeks ago and carefully chose my outfit that night based upon style and versatility. I specifically chose to wear my Converse All-Star sneakers, primarily because one, they looked cool with my outfit, and two, the last time I’d worn heels and my feet were killing me.  Wouldn’t you know that later that night, a random “helpful” man took it upon himself to point out that I should wear boots with heels instead of the shoes I’d picked.  *?!*  Why he felt the need to offer this advice baffled me. I know, you’re thinking it was because I was dancing poorly, but I wasn’t. Really. And besides, he was the one who was not a strong lead and kept getting off beat.  My response? It was really mature. “I’m sorry, what?!  Oh, so you who have now known me for 5 minutes are suddenly an expert on my feet?  You, who have no idea how long I’ve been dancing, or how badly my back hurt last week from high-heeled shoes, or what my delicate lovely feet even look like? You (as I judged his dated button-down shirt and too-baggy jeans) who have no clue as to the advanced thought process it takes to put together a well-coordinated-yet-practical outfit for dancing?  You, man who doesn’t know me, really have the 411 on which shoes would have been best for me tonight?”  I really laid into him.  Well, not really, not out loud at least. But all the way home in the car I had that terrific conversation with him, in my head.

It’s a trite story to illustrate a point. We don’t like to hear advice we’re not looking for.  But when it comes to our work performance, or the way we are getting along with others in the office, or our leadership style, can we remain close-minded when someone offers their two cents worth?

“But of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send, save me, oh save me from the candid friend!”  — George Canning

Being able to accurately self-assess is a competency of social and emotional intelligence.  And if we’re not able to make an accurate assessment, there are times when we need others to step in and help.

Just because we think we are great at something doesn’t mean we are great. I’m always amazed at the try-outs they televise for American Idol.  You know, the ones that are really, really bad but they think they are really, really good.  Off tune is putting it nicely.  In their minds they truly think the panel of three will shout a unanimous, “You’re going to Hollywood!”, and are shocked when they instead hear Jennifer’s, “Sorry, Sweetie.”  How did this miss occur? You wonder why a good friend never pulled them aside to say, “Pal, listen, I love you, and you have so many talents, but singing just isn’t your thing.”

No, it’s not easy to receive advice or correction, but candid feedback can give us the insight we need to be a better us.

It is a brave thing to be able to ask others what they think about you. And yet even braver to be OPEN to what they say. There is a proverb that says, “Faithful are the wounds from a friend…”  Wounds. Correction can feel just like that. It stings and if we’re not careful can leave a scar if we take it the wrong way. The truth is, it is much easier to stay right where we are and not grow or change. Most people hit a ceiling of emotional intelligence and are content to stay right there. If that’s where you’re at, then so be it. But if you want to develop, and thrive, and succeed – if you want to break through that ceiling and reach your fullest potential—you’re going to want to start asking for feedback, and even more importantly,  listen to it. We all have blind spots that we just can’t see clearly. By reaching out to close friends, trusted colleagues, or a coach, we can gain insights that will open us to growth and help us develop our weaker competencies into strengths.

How do you react to feedback?  Like I did with my dance shoes? I have to admit, after-the-fact, that the shoes I chose that night didn’t have the greatest traction on the dance floor, and I even developed a blister toward the end. Maybe random man was on to something there. Maybe next time, I’ll attempt to remain receptive to feedback.  Maybe.

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