Last week I wrote about a time when many of my colleagues knew there were issues affecting my performance but none of them had ever told me. I was deeply hurt when I finally found out. The thought of people casually discussing what a jerk I was made it difficult to face my coworkers. It made it hard to trust them. Worse still, it made it hard to trust myself. What if I was doing something wrong again and nobody was telling me?
The answer was to enlist others in my self improvement. I had to proactively invite criticism and be gracious when it came, no matter how I felt about the substance. I had to provide indirect paths for feedback, such as through my manager, to help those who were too nervous to speak with me directly. I had to make it okay for people to tell me I was screwing up. There couldn’t be any negative consequences, or their perspective would be forever lost to me and I would be worse off for it.
So, as hard as it was for me, I spoke openly about the feedback I had received. I posted about it on Facebook so my colleagues could hear how valuable it was for me. I shared it verbatim with the people I worked with every day and told them I wanted to be better but that I needed their help. I told my managers to proactively ask my colleagues about the ways I was failing so would have the feedback I needed to do better.
As it turns out, just the act of inviting this feedback had a huge impact on how people perceived me. People who are jerks don’t want to get better. I did want to get better, so maybe I wasn’t really a jerk after all. When someone comes to us and asks for our help, they are humble in that moment and we are given the chance to be gracious. We all know what it is like to try to improve ourselves and when we see someone else doing the same we connect with that person. We root for them. As I invited people to help me improve I saw them take more ownership over my progress. I saw them invest in me and help me develop. Not only did I get better faster because of their feedback, but they were more open minded to my growth.
It was also easier for me to change my behavior. I found that it was harder to fall into old habits with someone with whom I had shared my struggle. My social commitment to them was stronger in many ways than any commitment I had made to myself. And if I did get heated in a debate, they were better able to help me return to grace.