Every so often after I have given a motivational keynote speech or seminar, a person will comment:
“I’ve heard that all before. I know that. You didn’t teach me anything new.”
Sometimes they will say it in person, to my face; other times they will share this feedback in post-event surveys, where their anonymity is ensured.
I feel badly for these select individuals as it appears that they don’t have any room for new insight, learning or experience. There is no more space for anything in fact, new or old. Their cup is full and therefore their growth is limited.
“Empty Your Cup” is a fundamental life concept and it also is a central theme in the martial arts. The premise is that if one’s cup is full of preconceptions and prejudices, there isn’t any more room for new learning, knowledge, or experiences .
In this video clip from the movie The Forbidden Kingdom, the character, Lu Yuan (played by Jackie Chan), imparts this wisdom somewhat poignantly to the student Jason Tripitikas (played by Michael Angarano).
Young people get bored easily
When I was training in the art of Tae Kwon Do, I would see this kind of impatience in teenagers. They frequently got bored when lessons were repeated or if the action wasn’t exciting enough. They would first check out mentally, then emotionally, and then they would stop coming altogether. Their cup was full; they became disinterested; sticking around wasn’t worth their time. Information and experience just poured over and could not be captured. They stopped learning.
Adults check out too
You might jump to the conclusion that this is a matter of immaturity on the part of young people, or a natural urge to dabble and experiment in lots of things. You could also say that there is a need for age-appropriate, engaging curriculum.
This may all be true when it comes to the Millennial generation; but I see the same dynamic in adults as well. We expect to be entertained, spoon fed, and continuously stimulated by technology, videos, bullet pointed information, pictures, mashups and media.
We have little tolerance or patience for slow-moving information or ideas, solutions or people that don’t immediately blow your mind. It’s like a fast-food addiction, but for thoughts and ideas, rather than burgers and fries. Our taste buds for learning have fundamentally been altered, and not necessarily for the better.
What can you do to ensure that you stay open to learning and development?
1. Empty your cup. Change your attitude. Cast off your arrogance and know-it-all beliefs. Give your ego a rest and realize that anyone and anything can offer you a valuable learning experience. Suspend your limiting beliefs and open your mind to new ideas, new information and new people who are different than you. And always remember that knowing something is very different from putting that knowing to use.
“Knowledge is not power; knowledge is only potential power. Action is power.” – Anthony Robbins
2. Deepen your cup. You’ve heard of the bottomless cup of coffee? Well, perhaps you could adopt a similar policy for how you serve up learning and development for yourself and others. Become a lifetime learner. Read more. Listen more. Observe more. Attend classes. Continuously sharpen your stick. You might think you are the subject matter expert, but you will always be a student. The journey to mastery is a lifelong venture.
3. Get a new cup. When all else fails, you can start over again with a new cup. That might be required when your industry/profession has had a fundamental disruption and your skill set is no longer relevant. Or perhaps you’ve had a life changing experiencing – such as cancer, a disability, a bankruptcy, or a divorce – an experience that changes the way you interact with the world. In life, you can start over and rebuild…with a new cup. (But first you have to put the old cup down)
Your Networking Goal for the Week
This week, I want you to take a good, long look at your cup of knowledge and how you have been responding to new information, new ideas and new people.
Start by recreating the physical experiment shown in the movie clip above: where the cup is almost full and you continue to pour more liquid into the cup. See what happens when it becomes to overflow. You can use a cup of tea or coffee or water. See what kind of mess you create when you are physically unable to receive and to hold the new content. (I suggest you do this little experiment over a kitchen sink.)
Now reflect on the times in the recent past when you were closed to new ideas, new information or new ways of looking at things. What kinds of messes did you make? Who else was impacted? What relationships were impacted as a result of your “my cup is full; I don’t need more of what you have to offer me” thinking and behavior?
As you network this week, having conversations with new and existing relationships at work and at home, practice the strategy of emptying your cup before engaging with others. Listen more actively. Don’t finish their sentences. Don’t disregard information that they share with you just because you think you already know, or because you are wiser, older, smarter, more powerful, etc. Be a student of relationships. Build new people bridges. Allow the people in your professional and personal networks to enrich you with new learning. Make room in your cup.
The ultimate question
Unsolicited feedback can backfire. I’ve experienced that several times in my career. I have learned to ask for permission before offering my feedback, observations and suggestions to others. I like to start with the following sentence, which I consider to be the ultimate question:
“Are you open to some feedback?”
You might also consider experimenting with the ultimate phrase before asking questions. Start your question with these two magical words: “I’m curious…”
This non-threatening language (with the right kind of vocal intonation) can soften and release the natural defense systems that can get triggered in others when they are given unsolicited feedback.
Creating a high-trust, high-performance culture
Last week, I was the guest speaker for a major insurance company. My audience was made up of 100 professionals specializing in fields of law, communications and government affairs. We discussed the importance of coaching and feedback as a means of keeping employees engaged. My talk was entitled: Everyday Feedback: creating a culture of high performance.
Why is feedback important?
High performing organizations practice everyday feedback as part of a high-trust culture and commitment to continuous improvement. Constructive feedback, both giving and receiving, is one of the ways that you can invest in talent and engage your workforce.
Don’t wait until the year-end performance review process to give your direct reports the constructive feedback that they need to grow, change, and improve. Ongoing feedback is a powerful, but underutilized tool in the workplace.
Three benefits that you’ll experience if you practice everyday feedback at work:
- Help you to stay out of your blind spots, or at least be able to course-correct before something goes terribly wrong in your career.
- Boost self-directed professional development and personal improvement of yourself and others.
- Motivate, engage and retain the talented people in your workforce by providing real-time, constructive, helpful feedback that they crave (especially true of the Millennial generation: those born after 1980)
Not all feedback is constructive
Watch this funny video clip from the movie Office Space. It is a good illustration of the kind of feedback you’ll want to avoid dispensing to others. Notice how de-motivating it is to the employee, making him less eager and less willing to do his job.
What constitutes effective feedback?
In my research, I found a terrific article written by Grant Wiggins. He wrote about feedback for the academic/educational community, but I think his insights apply equally well to corporate and business environments. One of his key messages is that
“…By teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning.”
It would be worth your time to read his entire article, Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, which appeared in the September 2012 blog of the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
Below are the 7 qualities of effective feedback that Grant Wiggins suggests that we need to be mindful of when dispensing feedback to others:
- Tangible and transparent
Mr. Wiggins also points out the often confused differences between feedback, advice, and evaluation.
- Feedback versus Advice. “We often jump right to advice without first ensuring that the learner has sought, grasped and tentatively accepted the feedback on which the advice is based.” - Grant Wiggins, ASCD 9/2012
- Feedback versus Evaluation. How often have you received feedback such as:“Good job.” or “B+” or “Meets Requirements.” or “I know that you could do better”? While these comments may be well-intended feedback, they fail to give the learner anything concrete to work on. Theses comments are really value judgements rather than effective feedback.
Fishbowl exercises are safe ways to learn from each other
Why not add some fun learning in your next team meeting? Using a fishbowl exercise format, where two volunteers are given a scenario and are asked to “act it out” in front of their peers. Then the people watching can comment on what they observed and offer suggestions. A facilitator can help guide the entire group in a constructive dialogue for learning and insight.
- Download this one-page sheet with 4 fishbowl exercises that you can use with your work team- Everyday Feedback_Fishbowl Exercises
Your Networking Goal for this Week
Each day for the next seven days of this week, I challenge you to do two things:
- Ask for feedback from your work colleagues or family members at least once each day. Listen completely and release any defense mechanism you feel rising in your body or mind. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask for specific examples and suggestions on what you could change to improve.
- Provide feedback (whether solicited or not) to a work colleague within 24 hours of observing a behavior/action that merits it. Preface your feedback with the ultimate question, “Are you open to some feedback?”
At the end of the week, reflect on what you experienced. How did it make you feel? What did you learn? What will you now change/modify as a result of giving and receiving this feedback to improve yourself and your performance?
In the words of Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, as well as many other leadership and business books:
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
p.s. I’m open to your feedback. If you have any constructive feedback on this networking tip or others that I have posted in the past, please email me at Kathy@MarketingMotivator.net
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist who is credited for developing the concepts of the extraverted and introverted personality types, was quoted as saying…
“What you resist, persists”
As much as I understand that sage advice, it sometimes hard to follow.
I remember an experience in college when I auditioned to be a Dolly at Stanford University – their term for a cheerleader. I had been a successful song leader during high school and had been selected to teach summer camps with the United Spirit Association (USA) along with other accomplished dancers and choreographers including Elaine and former American Idol judge Paula Abdul .
- see photo taken in 1982. Left to Right: camp instructors Elaine, Paula, and me
That was one of the best paid summer jobs I ever had. It was the first time that I learned to use a microphone and to lead groups. It was real leadership training.
When the game changes, you must change too
But the rules of the game were very different in college. The judging process was run by students, not professionals. The try-out procedure included some very inappropriate interviews. It was the first time in my life that I had been bullied and mistreated by my peers. What a shock!!
I spent the next two years of my college life trying to seek justice and change for this unfair process. I devoted a great deal of energy and attention to this effort. In the end, I did prevail and was able to influence change, but the cost/benefit ratio took its toll on me.
I often reflect upon what I could have done with my time and energy, had I been able to let go of the injustice and redirect my efforts elsewhere. I chalk it up to a “painful learning experience.” While I did learn something, it came at a big cost to me personally.
We are not in control, but we can shape our experience
Twenty nine years after the conclusion of that experience, I am faced with a similar but different dilemma. Being older and wiser, I know that I have a choice. I can wallow in the mud and fight it out, seeking fairness in an unfair world; or I can cut loose and find a way to redirect my efforts.
When you are faced with difficult and challenging times, redirecting your energy is one way that you can proactively shape your experience. In doing so, you may shift to a more peaceful, positive and accepting state of being. You are also likely to produce a better outcome for yourself and others.
Here are a few examples of what that shift might look like:
- If you are a teacher, redirect your energy to the students who are showing a desire to learn, rather than the disruptive kids with negative attention-seeking behaviors.
- If you are a parent, redirect your energy towards improving yourself, rather than being worn down by the annoying behaviors of your kids who know better.
- If you are giving a presentation, redirect your energy towards the audience members who are truly engaged in the conversation, rather than the rude or distracted ones who are making it miserable for you and others.
- If you are a business owner, redirect your energy to the customers that are responding positively to you, rather than the ones who behave as if they don’t need what you have to offer.
- If you are a job seeker, redirect your energy to the people and companies who demonstrate that they value your experience as well as the talents of their current employees, rather than the companies who have built up huge administrative barriers to entry and have a reputation for poor morale.
- If you are an active networker, redirect your energy to associations who welcome new people and new ideas, rather than the groups that practice exclusivity and only value your membership dues.
- If you are a thinker, redirect your energy to positive thoughts and possibilities of the now, rather than rehashing the ” woulda coulda shoulda” and other regrets of your past.
Your Networking Goal for the Week
This week, take an introspective look at the battles you’ve been fighting and why. Peel back the first layer (or the first emotion) to get at what really is going on in this situation. Now imagine what could happen if you simply redirected your energy, including your thoughts, emotions and actions, in a completely different direction.
When you catch yourself getting wound up in the old fight, take a moment to breathe. As you breathe in through your nose, think “Be” and as you exhale through your nose slowly, think “Still.” By being still for a moment or two, you can remember the choice that you have. You can stay in your resistance mode, or you can shift. You can apply your valuable energy and thought-leadership in different areas of your life and in new and more positive directions.
The choice truly is yours. Misery is optional…and really not worth it.