Note: The title of this post comes from Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging, which I highly recommend.
It’s your big day. You’ve just given a presentation to your colleagues about the idea you’ve been working on for the past two weeks. You’re down to the last few slides and feeling a rush of satisfaction, success, and relief. And then it happens. A colleague makes a legitimate objection to the meticulously crafted strategy you’ve been working on. What would you feel?
A twinge of anger disguised as an impatient “What do they know?” Do you retreat into a sense of superiority? Perhaps, frustration and a rapidly crumbling self-confidence and self-esteem? Do you feel compelled to counter any criticism with your superior education and status, or whatever it takes to fend off your own doubts at all costs? Maybe you’re ready for a debate over every nuance. Or are you trying to suppress your feelings and show no emotion? Do you recognize the pattern of denial, defense, withdrawal, or counterattack in your usual response?
All of these reactions rob you of the opportunity to listen and learn. Ultimately, they rob you of the opportunity to grow.
What if you could change that? What if your mental model for disagreement or feedback was one of caring rather than resistance?
Extra points: These skills will also help you become a better facilitator, recognize the benefits of diversity, improve the feedback culture on your team, and, in most cases, de-escalate friction and conflict.
How can you improve your inner ability to hear objection and feedback?
1. Use your inner awareness to transform the trigger point. The RAIN method (Recognition, Acceptance, Inquiry, and Non-identification) of mindful transformation can be helpful.
2. Don’t hastily take a position and try to enforce it before you understand what the objection is about. Listen actively.
3. Summarize the most important aspects of the objection to make sure you understand it. Rule of thumb for understanding: “You should try to present your counterpart’s point of view so clearly, vividly, and fairly that he says, “Thanks, I wish I had said it that way.” (Rapoport’s Rule phrased by Dan Dennet)
4. Thank your colleague for his or her contribution, honesty, and caring.
5. Take time to digest the objection, concern or feedback and put it into your own words.
The first two steps, especially the one about becoming aware of your default reactions to triggers, may seem impossible at first, but with practice you’ll find that your emotions and feelings gradually shifting toward attentive listening, curiosity, and gratitude.
* As a facilitator, pay attention to your emotional engagement during the session, encourage objections and lower the bar for raising them. Consider cultural background, inner strength, rank on the team, and varying degrees of openness.
PS: This article is intended as an entry point into a discussion about objections and feedback, not to analyze their actual validity or relevance. Feedback is often a subjective reaction to our actions or attitudes, not objective knowledge of who you are. You wouldn’t know unless you listened to it first.