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How Receptive are You?

Receptiveness Means Fishing for Feedback

Getting feedback, even from your most severe critic, may be the most important way of gaining the direction and control that leads to better self-management.

While jogging together one afternoon, Terry and Marie got on the subject of corrective criticism. Terry confided that he was having some difficulty understanding why his career didn’t seem to be going anywhere. He sensed that his boss wasn’t very supportive—she didn’t seem to care if he succeeded or not.

“If only she’d say what it is about me that doesn’t appeal to her, I’d work on changing. But she just won’t say.”

“That can be frustrating,” Marie agreed. “Maybe she’s just uncomfortable telling you what bugs her.”

“You’re an old friend, Marie. What do you think I’m doing wrong?”

Marie thought for a moment: Terry is a really good guy, but he does have some irritating behaviors. For example, he’s extremely competitive. So what the heck, she thought, I’ll tell him now while he seems to be looking for feedback.

“Terry,” she began, “You do have one behavioral trait that I find irritating, and maybe it bugs your boss too. You are the most blood-thirsty, competitive person I’ve ever met.” Terry didn’t say anything at first. In fact, he didn’t see any inaccuracy in her statement, although she worded it pretty harshly.

In fact, Marie was warming up to this and Terry didn’t seem too upset by what she’d just said, so she went on: “In fact, I notice whenever we play racquetball, it isn’t even fun. You’re so damn intense, you won’t even say ‘nice shot’ when I hit a zinger. To be honest with you, Terry, you’d be a lot nicer guy to be around if you’d be a little more charitable with your compliments—a bit better at the old sportsmanship.”

She was on a roll now: “In fact, Terry, I’d much rather play racquetball with Brent. Every game doesn’t seem like life or death to him. He just has fun. And he’s a nicer guy than you and he’s forever saying ‘great shot’ and he’s still a friend after the game even if I beat him and he even lets up once in a while if I’m really having a miserable game and….”

Suddenly, it sunk in that Terry wasn’t responding. He wasn’t getting mad and he wasn’t even thoughtfully considering this “constructive criticism.” Actually he was laughing out loud. Marie found that disconcerting, until he explained:

“Marie, do you realize that you just described perfectly, your style on the racquetball court? That’s exactly why I get frustrated playing against you.”

Marie wanted to give him her best “Oh yeah, says who…” when a large lightbulb went on over her head. He was right. She did do those things. Of course, she was just reacting to him. He started it!

After a moment, she started laughing too. He was right, of course. She was taking the game too seriously. But the exchange really was instructive. They both got some useful feedback and their friendship was strengthened by it.



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