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.