I was listening to a podcast episode recently and one of the things the hosts discussed made me think about conversations I’ve been in and reasons for how I react in conversations. As I looked back through the years, I think I have given the impression that I’m a negative person. Yet, I don’t think of myself as such, and I hope those around me don’t think I am. Usually when in a discussion I’m usually looking for things that can trip us up. Possible problems which may arise. I’m not looking for a reason to kill the idea, but rather my primary motivation is to look at the negative possibilities and see what plans can be put into place in order to prevent them from happening.
Too often, in past organizations, if I’ve done it too many times, I’m labeled as the pessimist and then ridiculed or lambasted for it. Eventually I don’t share my thoughts, shut down and eventually leave the group. I’ve always thought I was the problem.
Often I’ve had thoughts like, “I’m too negative”, “I’m too much of a naysayer” or “I’m just a half-empty kind of guy.”
In the podcast the hosts described some great ways to encourage and work with people who, like me, see potential pitfalls. They even went so far as to draw a distinction between a cynic and a critic. A cynic is somebody who has a bad attitude about most everything, while a critic is somebody who is critical of the problem, but not the world in general.
I would hope that I’m more the critic and not cynic, but I can see how when I begin to shut down, I could become the cynic. And the reason?
When an environment of trust is created, everybody feels like their opinion matters and that they won’t be sidelined or marginalized because they express it. They are open and free in their communication and while they don’t say everything on their mind, they are willing to share their best ideas and opinions. When it’s not there, they shut down. They close up and they feel like their best ideas are better somewhere else, where they will be appreciated. I’ve heard this from people in orginizations I’ve been in. It’s a poison which slowly destroys the best talent and ideas and leaves nothing valuable behind.
After I listened to this podcast, I reflected on past positions at companies I’ve worked for, and realized there are many instances where people did not have the skills or tools described in the episode in order to foster an environment where trust was built. What a difference it would have made! The environment would have been a much better and easier to contribute in.
There was one instance where I was in a meeting listening to the opinions of two of the primary leaders in the company talk about a new idea they had. They debated back and forth among themselves, while the rest of us listened. Occasionally one of the other team members would make a comment, but I had remained silent. Seeing my lack of participation, one of the leaders singled me out and asked me what I thought. So I told them of the problems I saw with the new idea.
Maybe I shared it a little too frankly, because one of the leaders proceeded to rip me up one side and down another. In front of all the team. I was embarassed, ashamed and angry. Later one of the members of the team approached me and privatly told me that what they did was wrong, but I was still hurt, and began looking for a way out.
While what they did was wrong, I also must accept some of the blame for what happened.
Had I been more sensitive to the situation I could have expressed my opinion in a better way. Maybe asking leading questions to tease out some of the flaws I saw. Maybe expressing my opinion less frankly. Also, my reaction was to just sit there and take the verbal abuse. Did I respond appropiatly? I’m not sure. Sometimes you need to take a stand and others you do not. I hope that was the correct response, but I’ll never know.
Having some of the tools discussed in the podcast could have served well in that situation and many others I’ve been in. Using the good skills and teachniques of communication could have provided a constructive way so I could have better contributed. These techniques could have helped me approach the situations so my looking at the need for a plan b could have been presented in such a was so as to not ruffle so many feathers and come across as negative, but instead as helpful and looking for solutions.
The podcast had really helped me look in the mirror and see what I’ve done in the past, and also helps me see what I need to do in order to be better in the future. Knowing this now I look forward to being able to contribute in a more constructive way to future conversations.
I’ll just need to make sure I do so with a plan b in case I mess up.