Here's an interesting article by Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There.
By Marshall Goldsmith
There’s a cute scene between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in the movie Something’s Gotta Give. Keaton plays a successful playwright, while Nicholson is a tycoon with a lothario reputation who happens to be dating her daughter. Nicholson is forced to spend a few nights at Keaton’s lavish home, recovering from a cardiac episode. He and Keaton start off loathing each other but eventually have a flirtatious discussion late one evening in her kitchen.
Keaton says, “I can’t imagine what you think of me.”
The two continue talking, without Nicholson sidestepping the point. Keaton, in a not-so-subtle attempt to elicit feedback, brings the conversation back on point.
“You don’t have to answer that,” she says.
“Okay,” he says agreeably.
“But if you have an opinion, I’d be curious,” says Keaton.
“I think you’re a tower of strength,” replies Nicholson.
“Ugh!” says Keaton.
I know it’s only a movie, but the scene rings true. Even in the most intimate moments, we can’t help passing judgment. We can’t help ranking what they tell us—lining it up as more, or less, pleasing or insightful than what we expected them to say.
There’s nothing wrong with offering an opinion in the normal give and take of business discussions. You want people to agree or disagree freely—but it’s not appropriate to pass judgment when we specifically ask people to voice their opinions about us.
This is true even if you ask a question and agree with the answer. Consciously or not, the other person will register your agreement. And he or she will remember with great specificity if you don’t agree the next time. The contrast is telling, as with the CEO in a meeting asking for suggestions about a problem and telling one subordinate, “That’s a great idea.” Then telling another subordinate, “That’s a good idea.” And saying nothing at all to a third subordinate’s suggestion. The first individual is probably pleased and encouraged to have the CEO’s approval. The second individual is slightly less pleased. The third is neither encouraged nor pleased.
You can be sure of two things. First, everyone in the room has made a note of the CEO’s rankings. Second, no matter how well-intentioned the CEO’s comments are, the net result is that grading people’s answers—rather than just accepting them without comment—makes people hesitant and defensive.
People don’t like to be critiqued, however obliquely. The only sure thing that comes from passing judgment on people’s efforts to help is that they won’t help us again.
How do we stop passing judgment, especially when people are honestly trying to help us?
I assure my clients that I am mission neutral. I don’t judge them or the changes they try to make. It’s not my job to weigh in on whether you’re a good person or bad because you’ve decided to change Behavior A instead of Behavior B.
It’s the same as a medical doctor—if you walk into the examining room with a broken leg, the doctor doesn’t pass judgment on how you broke your leg. He only cares about fixing it.
You need to extend that same attitude—the doctor’s mission-neutral purpose—to people trying to help you. No matter what you privately think of any helpful suggestion, keep your thoughts to yourself, hear the person out, and say, “Thank you.”
Try this: for one week treat every idea that comes your way from another person with complete neutrality. Think of yourself as a human Switzerland. Don’t take sides or express an opinion; don’t judge the comment. Just reply, “Thank you.”
After one week, I guarantee you will have significantly reduced the number of pointless arguments you engage in at work or at home. If you continue for several weeks, good things will happen. First, this neutral response will become automatic, as easy as saying, “Geshundheit,” when someone sneezes. And if you do this consistently, people will eventually brand you as a welcoming person, someone whose door they can knock on when they have an idea, someone with whom they can spitball casual ideas and not end up spitting at each other.
If you can’t self-monitor your judgmental responses, “hire” a friend to call you out and bill you hard cash every time you make a judgmental comment. It could be your spouse at home, or a buddy at work. If you’re docked $10 for each gratuitous judgment, you’ll soon feel the same pain you’ve been inflicting on others—and stop.
Excerpted with permission from What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, copyright 2007.
Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. He has been named one of the top 50 leaders influencing the field of management over the last century (American Management Association), one of the five most respected executive coaches (Forbes) and among the top ten executive educators (Wall Street Journal). Marshall invites you to visit his library (MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com) for articles and resources you can use.