Elva Ainsworth features a second extract from her new book, ‘Reboot Your Reputation’, written specifically to help people better manage feedback.
If you care about your impact on an organisation, then you are going to care about what other people think of you. How can you serve and empower others if they do not have respect for you? How can you support any agenda without permission to contribute? Your effectiveness depends on others’ eagerness to follow you and engage with you.
After coaching hundreds of managers through their 360 data, in this, the second in this series of articles, I offer some strategies to help readers change people’s opinions about you. These strategies are all about how you can change yourself:
Strategy four – Do exactly as they ask
Consider that the feedback you are struggling to deal with is a request. Their complaint may have deeply upset or frustrated you, or it may be grossly unfair and unreasonable, but look at it as if people are asking something of you.
This is a request you may not have heard before now; or not wanted to hear. It can be a clear indication of their needs rather than a complaint about your incompetence. You may have no idea how you might fulfil this request but seeing it as one is your first step.
If you speak out clearly and state explicitly what you are trying to achieve, things may miraculously resolve. When the truth is out, the dynamic will shift and more can be said.
I pride myself on being responsive and adaptive to different people and different situations but occasionally I get feedback that indicates that others want more structure and clarity. I spent years resisting this feedback, not really seeing how this issue might impact me at all – it seemed to be an issue for others, not for me.
Yet others’ struggles with me are my issue and do impact my effectiveness in the end. Once I could see this issue as a plea I could then move from thinking ‘that’s no problem, just get on with it’ to the question of ‘so, what do you need?’.
I started to hear specifics that would help – like a fully committed and detailed calendar available for my whole team and even a PA who could manage this for me. To fix the issue, I needed a new plan rather than a new me but I did need a new perspective and I needed to hear what they were saying.
Key to this strategy therefore is the requirement to listen and also to acknowledge others’ needs have been heard and respected. Then you need to get committed and ready to deliver something different. This is an active strategy and will lead to obvious and explicit changes.
There is no space for pride here. The result will be satisfying though – the changes will be appreciated even though your humility may not be! You can then check that things are working better as this final review will be part of closing the feedback loop.
Strategy five – Share and share again
Saying the same old things will get you the same old results. It is time to say something fresh. One of the most useful new conversations to consider having is that which shares your own personal experiences and the consequences of others’ behaviour.
Get super clear what your experience is and make sure you are not emotionally charged before describing it. Talk more about your intentions and your commitments. Show your vulnerability and your true feelings. Make sure you take full responsibility for your responses and actions rather than complaining about what others have caused.
Make sure also that you own up to not having been fully open before now too. Sharing yourself with the intention to empower someone else can be supremely powerful and useful to everyone concerned.
Strategy six – Confess your real intention
Consider that negative opinions of you are more to do with misunderstandings or misaligned intentions than they are about you. If you speak out clearly and state explicitly what you are trying to achieve, things may miraculously resolve. When the truth is out, the dynamic will shift and more can be said.
You can be satisfied that you have been fully self-expressed and others will buy into your intention or not. They will make up their own minds about you but at least you will have been clear about your aims and your fears. This is a bold yet elegantly simple way to shift opinions.
Strategy seven – Clear up disappointments
For this strategy, consider that negative opinions of you are more to do with disappointments and unfulfilled expectations than anything else. Others think you “should be” a certain way and are unhappy that you are not.
These expectations may have come from you in the first place but, more usually, they have originated from those other people – you may not even have known about them until now and you may not have caused them at all knowingly. As with many expectations, they are likely to have been made up!
If you think you may have seriously disappointed someone then this strategy is for you. Here are some areas of potential disappointment to check:
- Do they trust your honesty? If you suspect that your honesty is being questioned then this is worth facing head on. You may not be able to right this wrong, but you’ll certainly not be able to do so if you don’t try.
- Have you been ‘unfair?’ In a complex environment, it can be easy to be ‘unfair’ unwittingly (or intentionally). This may have seriously challenged someone’s sense of equity but you may be able to put it right.
- Did you change your mind? Shifting position in a fast-changing world might be natural, or even essential, for survival, but it may still mean that you go against your word. Break your word at your peril and clear up afterwards. Dealing with the consequences is the main access to forgiveness.
- Did you break your promise? Promises are hard to make and even harder to keep but are essential to accountable teamwork. Key to dealing with your promises is to communicate as soon as you know you are going to break it and to deal with the consequences at the same time.
- Did you forget? A favourite of mine, this happens a lot! Human memory and recall is notoriously inaccurate so it helps to expect that you will forget quite a lot. Plan for this, apologise and organise yourself to compensate for a human memory capacity.
- Did you do something wrong? You may have no clue what you have done but you have upset someone. Critical here is taking action to get things clear even though it may feel like it is nothing to do with you.
- Did you misunderstand things? As soon as you realise there has been a misunderstanding, you should apologise and reconnect.
- Did you betray someone? This is a serious act with significant harmful consequences for someone else. It may be intentioned or accidental but it is always devastating for the relationship. You will have clues that a betrayal (or perceived betrayal) has occurred as the breakdown will be evident. For resolution there need to be a generosity of spirit and compassion as well as bold speaking. There are no guarantees of retrieval although you might be able to find a new place for the relationship.
Given the number of ways you can disappoint someone, it is not surprising that it is pretty easy to do!
Strategy eight – Prove the new you
You have heard their views and you are willing to change. It’s critical that the important people notice that you have indeed changed. This requires you to translate the amended you into action, words and/or looks.
It is helpful to consider what conversations you should now have? What should you now wear? What new project would you take on? What would your desk now look like? What notebook/laptop should you now bring to the meetings?
If you like new things, then this might be your winning strategy.
Strategy nine – Be really different
Just pretend that you can indeed be different. If you were to imagine that, then what would you be doing and saying?
Let’s say you are fed up at work and you would rather be motivated and driven again. Imagine that nothing has changed apart from your own intention so explore how this is making you feel? What are the real consequences of feeling this way right now?
On you? And on other people? Next look at what could be added to how you are right now that might make a difference to how you are feeling and on other people? You could potentially add some ‘peace’ or some ‘tranquillity’ or some ‘acceptance’ or, alternatively, it might be that a big dose of ‘creativity’ and ‘teamwork’ will make the difference instead.
A simple but profound way to change for yourself and for others.
So, you do not have to tolerate the negative vibes around you. There are many options available to you to shift the situation – ranging from simply admitting you forgot something right through to resolving a betrayal. Creating a new future for yourself only requires new conversations.
In the next in this short series of articles, Elva will look at the various ways you can change your context if you really want to change their minds.