I was raised to be a nice girl, to be seen and not heard, to do what I was told to do and not what the adults in my life did. I was taught that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. It was important that I didn’t offend anyone. As a result of all that conditioning, my tendency has been to avoid conflict or confrontation of any kind.
Imagine my dilemma when I found out many years ago that to be of any real value as a thought leader (speaker, trainer, author …) I needed to challenge their thinking; to poke and stir up thoughts; to offer choice.
Being agreeable maintains the status quo. It validates people where they are and takes away their growth opportunity.
Almost as important, without being disruptive in my unique way, I can’t stand out from the crowd and it’s less likely I’ll be commercially successful.
What a journey it’s been to shift from the nice agreeable girl to embrace my spikey. Yes, it was there buried beneath the patina of socially appropriate behaviour.
What did it take for me to make that shift? Here are 7 steps in that journey that can help you do the same:
1. Believe we add value
So many of us either don’t see our talents and capabilities or fail to recognise their value. Without claiming this critical part of ourselves, we can’t make our contribution. Without recognising our value, we feel we have nothing to offer that can add to another person’s perspective. I’ve used the word believe purposefully. When I first started out in my own business, I had beautiful marketing materials that I never used. I realised they were developed from other people’s feedback and I wasn’t buying it. I needed to recognise my strengths and successes, understand the benefits they provided to others and feel that it was OK to say I’m good at this. I needed to own and embody my value. I needed to believe in me before I could expect others to.
Equally, I needed to let go of being a generalist. In the early days of a speaking or training career, many of us look at other people’s success and think “I can do that” and we incorporate that capability into our offering. That old saying “If we don’t stand for something, we fall for everything” comes to mind.
We need to draw our line in the sand and tell the world (or at least the niche we’re after) that this is what we stand for; this is what we offer and we’re damned good at it! Then we are in a position to offer value.
2. Listen to – then transform – the critical voice inside
We all have a critical voice. Some are less critical. Some are loud while others are a mere whisper. It’s there and it is providing a running commentary on how we’re doing according to our internal filters. If we believe we’re good enough, that we have a right to be here and have a valuable contribution to make, our internal voice will be reinforcing those positive messages. If we sometimes (or often) question our worthiness, the value we bring and what we deserve in this life, our critical internal voice will reflect those filters. Whatever way we think will influence how we show up.
That critical voice is simply providing us with information on how we really think about ourselves and the world around us. Given those beliefs are deep-seated, our critical voice is helpful in surfacing those beliefs so we can challenge the value they bring in our current situations and in relation to our dreams. Do they support or undermine our best efforts?
We can be grateful for the voice and the information it provides … then choose to do what we need to. This is where courage comes in. We can’t make our unique contribution – in this case add another perspective so our clients can make wiser choices – unless we move past that critical voice that would have us play small to keep us safe.
3. Ensure the message is clear
Yes, receiving feedback can be challenging. Giving it can also be hard, particularly if you’ve grown up with a credo of not offending anyone.
I used to get so frustrated when I found the courage to provide my opinion and then it wasn’t understood. I realised that the nice way I wrapped up what I was trying to say obscured the message. If I wanted to get my message across, I had to peel back the niceness to reveal its core.
If your tendency is to wrap the feedback up to make it more palatable, ensure that you haven’t buried the nugget so deeply it gets lost.
4. Focus on intent
This starts with a personal question. Why am I giving this person feedback? ‘Is it kind, is it necessary?’ is a phrase I was taught years ago. Am I providing the disruption to demonstrate just how clever I am or am I truly seeking to be of service to the other person. Where it’s the latter, the desire comes through as part of the communication. If not, my ego seeking validation will be heard instead and that can set up an icky energy.
Feedback is a gift. We often can’t see what’s going on in front of our noses; feedback is essential to expose and resolve our blindspots which are often the parts of ourselves that stand in our way. As thought leaders, we can be the light. So, to the second question: ‘Will it help the other person to hear what I could share? Is what I’m about to say the next natural step for that person for him/her to progress?’
Articulating the disruption, communication, feedback, seeking to resolve a conflict or enforce a boundary, however, can be difficult. I got to the point where I realised my clumsy wording would be forgiven if someone picked up my intention to help and support. That was important for me in my early years of struggling to give my genuine thoughts on how to move forward.
My early attempts at being truthful wound up far more direct than any of the parties were comfortable with. Over time, though, the pendulum has swung back and I’ve found a style that is direct, compassionate and respectful.
5. Gain permission first
Over the years, I’ve been unofficially coached by many people, whether I wanted to or not. I totally believe that we teach most what we need to learn and I got tired of people practicing on me. Now I ask if it’s OK that I give them some feedback. I admit it takes a tough person to say no thanks. However, that boundary sits with them. At least I’ve respected them enough to ask.
To make it easier, though, I contextualise the feedback into the outcome they’re seeking so they have a WIIFM (What’s in it for them) to potentially experience the discomfort.
6. Trust your intuition
We know far more than we realise we do. Have you ever had the experience of delivering a comment or observation that really landed and thought to yourself “I don’t know where that came from!” ? I certainly have. It sometimes catches me unaware to realise how much I’ve taken on in my career so far. [The other side of the coin is that I realise how much more there is to know.]
When we recognise and accept our knowledge, we let go of perfection and we are focussed on where we add greatest value, we can afford to trust our intuition. We can then share what we know in order to support others knowing that the right person will hear the right message at the right time.
7. Let go of the outcome
If we’re in the business of expanding someone’s reality whether through personal awareness or skill development, what we are doing is putting forward a perspective that they may or may not be ready to take on.
I had to get my ego out of the equation. What I mean by that is when we give other people feedback, we may be demonstrating what we know and seeking validation that it’s valuable.
That validation needs to come from within. If it doesn’t, we are in for a rocky ride. Not everyone is going to love what we do. When they do we feel strong and confident. When they don’t we plunge the depths. We are letting others determine our value.
Years ago, I heard a great speaker humbly say that if we were understanding his key message, it was because others before him had planted the seed. People may not be ready for what we say. Or we may be fortunate to be the one who provides the disruption at a time when the seed is ready to grow. Either way, our message can be the same and yet have different impact depending on where the audience is.
Do I always get this right? No. So when I get an outcome I wasn’t expecting and didn’t want, I can go back to question where it got off the rails. I realise as I write this post that a shift occurred somewhere along the line and that I more naturally embody these principles these days.
Why is that important? Because as a thought leader, I have to believe in myself first before I can share what I can do in a way others benefit from.