Why Getting Called Out Can Be a Good Thing
It’s nice to be nice, right?
I strongly believe in treating people kindly and not saying anything that I wouldn’t want someone else to tell me—especially if I never asked for their opinion. We don’t always see eye to eye and life is much more pleasant if we simply acknowledge that and move on.
So, it stopped me in my tracks when I was recently called out at a networking breakfast. We were having a group debate on marketing and sales strategies and I said something flippant about a certain sales aspect that I’m not very good at. This guy, let’s call him David, turned around and looked me right in the eye. He then told me—calmly, but very firmly—that I was hurting myself by not being more serious about my business and that it could even be called unprofessional. Ouch! For a short moment, I was mortified. He was scolding me in public. How dare he? Obviously, I could never come back to this group again—ever.
Why it’s sometimes kinder to speak a hard truth
And then, sanity returned. David spoke out in a spirit of helpfulness and not because he wanted to embarrass me. (Even though, a small part of me wishes that he had approached me after the event and told me in private …) He was also absolutely right. Slacking on my business duties is unprofessional and I shouldn’t be joking about that. It was important for me to hear that, even though I didn’t like it. Looking the other way is the easy thing to do. Offering advice commits you to the well-being of a person and that’s a lot less easy.
Why this is still no carte blanche for blasting other people with our truths
Appreciation for David’s wake-up call aside, I will stay careful about telling people what I think about their choices. Unless they ask me, of course. Before I run my mouth, I like to run through a little mental list to determine whether what I want to say actually has any value for the other person.
My anti-meddling checklist
- Is this any of my business?
- Does anyone involved care about my opinion in this matter?
- Do I really know the person’s stance on the issue in question?
- Do I have all the facts about why they are doing things the way they are?
- Do I have the expertise to tell them that their way is not the right way?
- Am I maybe just bothered by the fact that their way is not my way?
- Is the urge to say something fueled by peevishness or helpfulness?
- Do I want to tell them something they may have heard before and decided not to heed because they know better?
Of course, we shouldn’t stand idly by while people around us self-destruct. But we should also be mindful that we don’t always have the answers either. What’s your take? Do you speak up quickly or do you prefer to let people find their own way?
PS There is also a cultural issue at play here. Germans have much less of a problem serving up some cold, hard criticism or telling others what to do. Here in Germany, random people will cross the street just to tell me that I should zip up my jacket before I come down with a cold. The American in me has more of a live-and-let-live attitude. When it comes to criticism, I prefer to cushion the blow (which means that Germans may not always catch on to what I’m really saying).