Back in my single days I once told a girl I was dating that her perfume smelled terrible. She couldn’t believe I would say something so rude. I couldn’t believe she didn’t appreciate that I was trying to help (I mean seriously, this perfume was rancid). Instead of being mad at me for my honesty, she should have been mad at everyone else that let her walk around smelling like that.
I was reminded of this situation while I was watching American Idol (go ahead and make fun of me). One of the most compelling elements of the show is the moment of utter shock and disbelief when a contested is kicked-off for lack of talent. Their friends, mom, and co-workers all told them they were great, super, awesome, wonderful, etc. – because they didn’t have the guts to present the cold truth. If they had been honest, then maybe the contestant would have practiced harder, gotten a coach, or focused on another talent. But no, they let them walk around with a proverbial booger on their face for the whole world to see.
In business, this happens all the time. We are so inclined to say “good job” because it feels nice for everyone involved. But the truth is that we don’t always do a good job, we don’t evolve, we don’t make smart decisions – because we are convinced that we have it all figured out. And that unmentioned booger on our faces keeps us in mediocrity, unable to reach full potential.
I have a good friend and associate that recently told me: “If I say it’s white, you’ll say it’s black – I think you do that just to mess with me.” Untrue. I do it because as salespeople, we are so good at convincing that we can convince ourselves that everything is fine, that we are on the right course, that we are taking smart actions – even if we’re not. It is critical that we open ourselves to criticism and counter-intuitive thought if we want to grow.
Numerous times throughout my career I have been informed of a booger on my face by people that I respected, and I often reacted with anger or frustration. In looking back I realize that those people, and their willingness to tell me the unpopular truth, have had a significant impact on my life. It may have taken a day or a month or several years for me to accept the message and do something about it – or maybe I never agreed, so I fought to change their perception. Either way I benefited from their courage to tell me something I didn’t want to hear.
I know it feels better to hear “good job” and I know we love the people that give us a positive perspective of ourselves, but if you really want to grow, then you must give serious credibility to the people that are willing to criticize. You should thank them for not allowing you to walk around with a booger on your face. If you believe their criticism is misguided, then let that be a motivator and work hard to prove them wrong.