(By Amanda Neville)
“If you’re feeling defensive, stop and take stock of what is making your feel so insecure that you feel the need to shift into criminal defense mode. Inevitably, you’ll disappoint a colleague. It stinks when it happens. But it is normal and your relationship needs to be strong enough to handle a dropped ball without the threat of disrespectful or demeaning responses. Is it something in you that fears making mistakes? Has your relationship dynamic become imbalanced in terms of the approval given or withheld.“
Last week, I wrote about the under-performing partner. This week, I’ll tell you about the time that my partner told me that I hadn’t pulled my weight. Suffice it to say, I took it hard. I still remember it as one of the worst conversations of my life. It left me speechless, as my throat tightened and my stomach dropped. It wasn’t long before my mind starting taking a mental inventory of all the events that might justify her point of view, and a litany of counter examples that I could point to to counter it. In the fog of my emotions, I wondered if she was right. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
Was she right? Justification either way is beside the point. My bigger problem was that she thought I hadn’t contributed commensurately. That was real for her and I had to deal with it, whether I agreed with it or not.
That didn’t help me in the moment, or in the many moments that followed when I doubted my value. As a team, we participated in a mediation session that cleared the air just enough for us to get past the experience. Over the following year, I spent a lot of time with my executive coach figuring out how to take away constructive lessons from the experience, and how to move forward. Here are the five takeaways:
If you’re taking it personally, you need to reset your boundaries.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can see now that I took that comment as an assault on my character, my work ethic, and basically my whole being. My boundaries weren’t very good at the time, and it was compounded by our friendship outside of work. I needed some distance to regain my perspective, and I needed more definition between our personal and professional lives.
If you’re feeling defensive, figure out why you’re scared.
If you’re feeling defensive, stop and take stock of what is making your feel so insecure that you feel the need to shift into criminal defense mode. Inevitably, you’ll disappoint a colleague. It stinks when it happens. But it is normal and your relationship needs to be strong enough to handle a dropped ball without the threat of disrespectful or demeaning responses. Is it something in you that fears making mistakes? Has your relationship dynamic become imbalanced in terms of the approval given or withheld.
If you’re not grateful, you should be.
It hurts to hear that you let someone down or that your best wasn’t enough. But it takes guts to be real and say what’s on your mind, and that is the gift in a moment like this. In fact, it’s an opportunity to reconnect, reprioritize and maybe even redistribute the workload. If you can both approach the conversation with that framing in mind, it neutralizes the tension and makes it easier to collaborate on a solution.
If you’re not learning, you’re not paying attention.
You can’t unsay anything or erase the impact of your words. Think before you speak, especially when you’re delivering criticism. It’s an art, and it takes practice to do it in a way that the other person can receive it. If you’ve gotten feedback that is hard to swallow, think about how it could have been delivered to be more palatable. Then do that next time you are in a position to offer constructive criticism.
If you’re blaming yourself, try forgiveness.
Taking a hard look at how you contributed to the situation is healthy. Obsessing and ruminating is not. Make a list of things you could have done differently and go through the options you had at each juncture. I know I’m a hard worker, but I failed to communicate with my partners on several levels: I didn’t ask for help when I needed it and I didn’t do enough to acknowledge their work when the workload pendulum swung against them. I also failed to respond to each person as an individual, with different communication and work styles. I was a total rookie, and viewed from that lens, I identified all kinds of steps I could take to improve the situation over time.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”