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Your Critics Are Your Best Friends – By Judy Batenburg

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Author: Judy Batenburg – VP of Infrastructure, Starz Entertainment

“I think your team is incompetent, and I’m going to do everything I can to replace you and your team”. These words were spoken to me about two weeks into a new job. My first thought was “My resume is still up to date, I guess I could start interviewing again.”  Luckily, I’m pretty stubborn strong willed, and rather than being discouraged, I took it as a challenge.

Although he didn’t realize it, and it certainly wasn’t his intent, John* had done me a huge favor. He had given me clear, concise and honest feedback. With nothing to lose, I acknowledged his concerns and asked him for three months to fix things –not because I had a grand plan, but just to buy time. I began to meet with him each week – we bonded over kids, 80s music, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart. Slowly, over those three months, we become personal friends while our team improved our service delivery and our professional relationship. In the end, he moved from my biggest critic to friends over a few months. He became, and still is, one of my strongest supporters.

Who are your closest friends at work – or the colleagues that you get along with the best? When was the last time you asked them for feedback? It’s probably easy to think of the answer – we like to talk to those we like and who like us.

Now think of one or two people you DON’T get along with – maybe you have conflicts over projects, or maybe your personalities just don’t mesh. When was the last time you sought them out and solicited feedback? It’s probably a bit harder to answer that question – but the answer might help you more than you think.

It’s easy to solicit feedback from those who like us – after all, the feedback is usually along the lines of “You’re doing GREAT! Don’t change a thing!” They may very well be telling you the truth – after all, they like us! But they aren’t giving us the honest feedback that can help us improve.

Your critics, on the other hand, will give you clear, unvarnished feedback about anything (and everything!) you can improve. They are truly being your friends – but don’t tell them that!

Over the next 30 days, identify the people who don’t particularly like you, your work or your team. Sit down and ask them for honest feedback, acknowledge that feedback and use it to move you and your team forward. Take some time to figure out if you can build a stronger personal or professional relationship with them to help move them from critics to friends. As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture: “When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it. When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.” It could just be your critics are your best friends.

*Not his real name of course!

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