Managing discontent

Wonderfully, several parts of my professional life have seen recent instances of people being less than completely satisfied with my work, or that of my colleagues.


I say wonderfully not sarcastically, but genuinely, because it’s a great opportunity to question whether things are working or not.

It’s easy to get stuck into a rut, where you’re comfortable or feel you have the answers. Sometimes you need a bit of a bump to get you re-engaged.

(Of course, some bumps are a bit bigger than others, but hey, what are you going to do?)

Sometimes these things happen because you’ve not keep up your standards; sometimes because things you thought were explicit have become implicit; sometimes because things have changed.

In each case, it’s more useful that your response is open and enquiring, rather than closed and defensive. No-one likes being told that their work isn’t up to scratch, but that’s not a good enough reason to carry on regardless.

Importantly, you have to start by recognising that problems with your work isn’t the same as problems with you. Contain the issue to your actions – which you can control – rather than allow it to be a comment on your being – which you can’t.

One thing that I’ve found useful is to invite the person making the criticism to elaborate and explain their views, so that I have more chance of understanding where they are coming and what can be done about it.

Also, listening demonstrates that you are not simply pushing a problem away, but instead engaging with it.

But that also needs actions.

Once you’ve understood the critique, consider how best to address it.

Sometimes it’s about putting more attention into what you; sometimes it’s about being more explicit about your actions; sometimes it’s about changing to new circumstances.

But also sometimes it’s about helping the other person understand where you are coming from. You’re welcome to offer criticism, but that doesn’t mean I will roll over for you.

All this comes back to a lot of the teaching I’ve done on negotiation: problem-solving, rather than winning; understanding yourself and the other party; looking for useful benchmarks to evaluate decisions.

I hope I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I know I don’t have all the answers and that I don’t always get it right. If someone else can help me improve, then that’s all to the good: even if their criticism ultimately doesn’t change my behaviour, but does make me explain myself better, then that’s also great.

So if you get a knock, try to roll with it and maybe everyone will come out feeling better from it all.