Lower the Drawbridge

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Several months ago, I wrote a newsletter titled Honest and Kind.

In it, I shared a dilemma I was facing. A colleague had asked me to endorse his book, which I was happy to do. He’s a friendly acquaintance, whose work I respect. But as I read it, I gradually became aware that the words, ideas, and stories of traditionally underrepresented groups were largely absent. This was uncomfortable for me. I didn’t want to disappoint a colleague, but I have also committed to try to amplify the voices of those who are too often unheard. Though the book was well-done, this oversight made it impossible for me to endorse it. You can read what happened here.

On this week's podcast, we follow up with the rest of the story. The big reveal is that this was my colleague Aidan McCullen, and his book (revised for greater diversity) is soon to be published. Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations, and Life — I endorse it here.

Aidan McCullen is a prime example of a person who graciously receives feedback. We use the phrase “constructive criticism” to describe the kind of feedback we should give when change is needed, but what truly makes criticism constructive is a recipient who is willing to accept advice. And then uses that criticism to make positive course corrections. Most people struggle with that, at least some of the time. I know I do. We’re more likely to graciously receive feedback when it agrees with what we already think of ourselves, our work, or our conduct.

But Aidan wants to get better. He is relentless about improvement! Today, he is a successful businessman, with a previous lengthy career playing rugby. It’s a rough and tumble sport, one which I think you don’t keep playing if you aren’t willing to be coached, passionate about winning, and open to making the changes required to succeed at a high level. It’s just too bruising to play it poorly!

Because Aidan McCullen is willing to receive feedback with an open mind, people are willing to give it to him. The feedback I gave him when I declined to endorse his book was painful for me to contemplate, but because he is so great about listening to learn, the experience has strengthened, rather than undermined, our relationship.

What other relationships would be strengthened if you and I were more willing to not hold back out of fear or discomfort? What relationships do we have that are not being strengthened?

And…

How are we not getting better at what we care about, because our colleagues are afraid of how we will react if they give us honest feedback? Do they fear recrimination or think that we are too fragile to hear their feedback? Do they shy away from some high drama or worry we will pitch a fit?

A few years ago, one of my colleagues and podcast guest, Carine Clark, expressed to me that she wanted to reach the point where she was unoffendable. No one could offend her. Ever. No matter what. I love and admire that personal goal.

Could we get to the point where we simply refuse to be offended? Can we take criticism constructively, or ignore it, without resentment if it isn’t appropriate?

I keep revisiting this subject because I’m convinced it’s one of the most productive changes we (I) could make. There’s so much information that could help us get better faster if we lower the drawbridge over the moat and throw open the castle doors to receive it. Break down our defenses with the understanding that people are rarely trying to be mean.

If they summon the courage to give you feedback, it’s because they are invested in you—deeply. Listening is a love language and an appropriate reward for those who care about you thriving in life.

In the podcast with Aidan, we discuss transformation. Resistance is often the marker that transformation is near. The old way we have done things can be a security blanket that needs to be given up for growth to take place.

Yours in growth, and throwing open the castle doors,
Whitney

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