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When good advice sucks

March 8, 2012

We all know the saying, ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Well, I propose a twist on that gem: ‘be careful what advice you give’. Because there is a high likelihood you will have to suck it up yourself at some point.

Being in a leadership role is, after all, quite conducive to a bit of good old-fashioned hubris (Just ask K Rudd!).

People look to leaders for guidance; we’re responsible for helping others develop, and in the end, we end up dispensing a fair bit of advice.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the advice ends, and the preaching starts. I’m sure there are moments when my team members watch me roll out the metaphorical soap box, and sigh as they watch me mount it. (There’s often some grammatical instruction involved).

Anyway, I gave a bit of advice this week that came back to bite me in the arse.

I was asked to give a speech at my high school, to give the HSC students some insight into the big wide corporate world. One of the gems of wisdom to fall from my lips was to ‘take negative feedback constructively’. Because it’s tough when you get into the workforce and realise you know two parts of bugger-all about what really goes on at work.

It’s particularly crushing for overachievers who have killed it all through high school and uni, and been told they’re fantastic. (I should know, because I had to eat a lot of shit sandwiches when I first started working!).

As you get better and master things, the shit sandwich menu shrinks, and you’re good at stuff again. Yay!

But just in case that hubris starts creeping up, we have a wonderful thing called family. For example, there’s only one person in the world who tells me I’ve put on weight, and it’s my brother.

Similarly, when I practised my ‘fantastic’ motivational speech on my husband, he tore it to shreds. Told me it was boring, delivered with no conviction, and that I was reading it off the page.

I’d like to say I took that negative feedback constructively, and I did, to an extent. I ditched my text, made some dot points and revised the content.

But that doesn’t mean I was gracious about it! I put my cranky pants on and retired to the lounge to sulk on Twitter. I did get over it, and I think the speech went ok.

But taking negative feedback doesn’t actually get easier – hopefully it becomes less frequent.

So my advice is: be wary of giving advice, lest you have to take it.


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One Comment
  1. Then there are those people from whom “constructive feedback” never becomes less frequent. There is an inverse ratio – the closer they are to you, the greater the chance of feedback. One tactic is just to shrink the sized of the filter so less gets through, but the trouble is that you might miss something which is actually on target. The only real solution may be to harden up – the golden rule of feedback is that you can take it or leave it – the choice is yours.

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