Criticism Reframed

Hearing criticism in a way that can help you to learn and grow can be tough. Criticism can cause us to tense up and get defensive if not delivered properly, which means we can’t learn from it. In my coach training program I learned how to connect with someone and give what might be tough feedback in a way that will be useful to them. But not everyone knows how to deliver feedback in this way. Properly delivered criticism can be very valuable to self awareness and personal growth, but our colleagues aren’t perfect and they may not always deliver criticism in a useful way. Here are some strategies for handling (and learning from) improperly delivered criticism.

Criticism & Feedback

Photo by Daniel Lobo. Used under Creative Commons License

Hearing Criticism: Don Your Armor

One helpful rubric for learning from criticism which may not be delivered in the easiest way to hear is to disengage from the comments. What I mean by this is to almost pretend the speaker is talking about someone else so you can listen for the content that might be helpful. One way to think of this is to think about putting on your armor, or your thick skin. Brace yourself.  I used to cringe every time I read my course evaluations. Now I still have to steady myself to read them but I do value what they say. They help me to be a better instructor. By consciously protecting my emotions–either by putting them aside or imagining they are inside my “armor” I am much better able to learn and grown from the comments I receive.

Hearing Criticism: Focus on the Content

I recently read an article from Inc about how emotionally intelligent people handle criticism. It suggests focusing on the content. Instead of focusing on a delivery that might be rude, abrupt or otherwise offensive, think about how you can use the information to learn, grow and  improve. Is there some element of truth there?

Hearing Criticism: Reframe the Feedback

Properly delivered feedback is very useful for self-improvement. When feedback isn’t delivered in a way that’s easy to digest, another strategy  is to reframe it so that it is closer to the desired method of delivering criticism in a useful way.

  1. Feedback should be given in a safe, private area.  If someone is beginning to share feedback with you and you are not comfortable with the location, invite them to move to another area. Say, “I’m happy to discuss this with you but I would be more comfortable if we found a more private area. Let’s see if the conference room is available.”
  2. To be most “digestible,” there should be a ratio of 2/3 positive feedback to 1/3 negative feedback. If you are just hearing negative feedback it will be up to you to mentally insert some positive feedback. You know what you do well. Be sure to remind yourself.
  3. Criticism can sometimes feel like a personal attack, even if it is not intended this way. Actively remind yourself that it’s not personal. See if you can gently remind the criticizer to focus on the issue rather than the person.  If they say, “You are X,” reply by saying, “I appreciate you coming to me with this. So that I can better understand and improve the situation, could you tell me what it is you are observing that makes you think I am X?” This has the added benefit of providing you with more detail on the potential growth area.

Hearing Criticism: What if You Still Take It Too Personally

Criticism or negative feedback isn’t meant to be personal. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person or fun to spend time with or a a good parent. But sometimes it can really rock your world…personally. So how do you handle this? Affirmations can help. If you tell yourself before you receive feedback, “this is feedback on my job performance,” or “this is one person’s opinion on how I conducted x project,” it can be a lot easier to hear the helpful parts. If you tell yourself daily that you are a good person trying your best then you will come to believe it, and negative feedback won’t be so difficult to handle.

Hearing Criticism: When does it stop being feedback?

In this post I’m not talking about criticism that is intentionally over-harsh, nitpick or continual.  Feedback is designed to help you learn and improve.  Nagging or bullying isn’t feedback. If you think you might be in a situation where someone is being over-critical,  your organization’s human resources department, staff assistance program or ombudsperson can be helpful.

Have you been successful in learning from criticism? How have you separated useful criticism from poor delivery? I’d love to hear your experiences. 


Summer Holiday!

I’m taking a break from blogging. To be our most effective we need quiet moments, we need to tend to our physical well being, and we need to connect with our loved ones.  We need to break from the act of sawing and, as Steven Covey wrote, sharpen our saws.

Thanks to the power of scheduling tweets (@sweetcoachcons) continue throughout the summer, highlighting some of my best blog posts.  I’ll be enjoying a sabbatical from work, spending time with my beloved family,  outdoors, relaxing, reading fiction, connecting with friends and generally giving my brain time and space to process.  I’ll be back in September, rested, restored and ready to work again.  I’d love to hear your restorative plans for the summer!

Library Leadership

Library leadership is something I approach passionately.  Why is library leadership important?  It is the path to truly excellent library service. Without strong leadership libraries can’t succeed.  In order for libraries to succeed, they need effective leaders and in order for leaders to be effective they need to be prepared.

Library Leadership: Not Just at the Top

What are leaders?  Leaders are influencers. Leaders innovate and develop.  Leaders keep the long range perspective in mind.  They exhibit new ideas and challenge the status quo. Leaders focus on and develop people. Leaders continually question.  And leaders aren’t just the people at the top of an organization.  Committee chairs, working group leaders and well trusted colleagues all hold important leadership roles in an organization.

Preparing for Library Leadership

So, if a librarian is interested in a leadership role how do they prepare?  If a librarian finds themselves in a leadership role, how do they get up to speed? Certain concepts come up again and again in the literature related to leadership skills.  They are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Understanding the Bigger Picture
  • Professional Comportment
  • Change Facilitation
  • Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Innovation

My first piece of advice to anyone moving into library leadership is to get familiar with these notions.  But don’t just take my word for it, research what others say about essential skills for library leaders and familiarize yourself with the concepts they list.

First Steps for improving Library Leadership Skills

Here are 10 easy-to-implement actions for improving your leadership skills.  They are in no particular order and are applicable to people in any field, not just library leadership:

  1. Find a mentor (formal or informal).
  2. Form a “Community of Practice” or “Mastermind Group” of other developing leaders to share your experiences and learn from one another.
  3. Create a daily reading list (including the campus or local newspaper, Chronicle of Higher Education or other industry publication, blogs, twitter, etc.). Map out time on your schedule to accomplish this.
  4. Conduct a skills assessment–where do you most need to grow?
  5. Apply to a leadership development program (ALA’s Emerging Leaders, Harvard’s Leadership Institute, Educause/CLIR Leading Change Institute, etc.).
  6. Learn your organization’s mission(s), vision(s) and values.
  7. Write a personal mission, vision and values statement.
  8. Schedule “thinking time” and “reading time” on your calendar.  You may not always honor it but you will honor it more often than if you don’t schedule it!
  9. Adopt an innovator’s approach to your work.
  10. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Are you transitioning to library leadership?  I would love to hear about your triumphs and challenges.  Have you learned your own leadership lessons?  Share your wisdom!

To comment, click on the speech bubble to the right
 of the blog post title (or click “leave a reply” at the 
end of the post), then click on the tiny orange speech 
bubble to the left at the bottom of the post.  
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Find Your Passion & Put It To Work

Something awesome happened to me last year–I figured out a way to work related to my passion.  I didn’t even know how awesome it was at the time but recently got some perspective on it.  A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend whom I hadn’t seen since before that time.  I explained where I was professionally right now and he was shocked.  The last time we spoke I was…adrift.  I had relocated abroad, leaving a career I loved behind.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to find professional fulfillment in my new environment.  I had lost my focus, my mojo, my spark–Then BAM!  Things changed. Since he was looking to reignite his own professional spark, he asked me.  I didn’t have a ready answer.  How did it happen? Here are some factors:

1.  Know your passion

I am really lucky that I have always known my passion: I want libraries to be excellent and for that to happen excellent people have to work in them.  For some people it’s not so easy to know exactly what their passion is.  How do you begin to discover it?  Ask yourself what is important to you– important enough to work for. Then try to narrow down to the most important thing for you. Think about your skills and ways that you have contributed in the past that have given you personal fulfillment.

2.  Get some perspective

Once you know your passion it’s important to create the mental space to really consider the “how” of executing this important work. My thinking took place on holiday but it’s not necessary to take a trip.  I think getting outside of your normal routine can help with this kind of soul searching but it could just be going for a walk or sitting quietly for a few minutes.

3.  Ask, “How can I make my passion work?”

I knew what was important to me, I just didn’t know how to make it work with my life circumstances.  I began to wonder how I could engage in meaningful work related to my passion.  Even when I was a practicing librarian I was occasionally retained as a consultant and  always dreamed of making that my full time job. Now I had the opportunity to do just that.  I asked myself, “what would have to be in place for me to be successful?”  and thought about what was already in place that would allow me to do this important work. I thought about what I wanted to do and how I could get there.

For me in order to create the professional fulfillment I want I had to do a few things.  I knew I had to stick with the target audience I know–North American research libraries.  That means I would have to accept zone differences and some degree of professional travel, even with a young child.  Once I got myself OK with that, I thought about what I needed to do to start working at my passion. For me the answer was to make time.  Rather than thinking about work as something I slotted in when I had the time I decided to make the time.  By dedicating actual work hours I created a business plan.  I wrote a social media strategy. I look for new prospects and leads.  I use the precious commodity of time to pursue my passion. I read.  I blog. I have ideas for new services I can provide to help libraries and librarians be excellent.

Have you found a way to make your passion work?  I’d love to hear about it.

To comment, click on the speech bubble to the right
 of the blog post title (or click “leave a reply” at the 
end of the post), then click on the tiny orange speech 
bubble to the left at the bottom of the post.  
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Personal Mission Statement–What’s Yours?

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

A personal mission statement is a succinct declaration of what is important to you and how you bring that to action.  We have all heard it before:  success is preparation met with opportunity.  One way to prepare for opportunities is to know yourself.  Knowing what is important to you helps to make decisions that feel right.  By knowing what your capabilities are you can make decisions that suit your talents.

How to Write Your Personal Mission Statement:

Fast Company recently published an article on using businesses strategies in planning to create a personal life plan.  To create the direction needed to fulfill your life’s purpose, here are four questions to answer.  The answers you provide will help to form your personal mission statement:

  1. What makes life meaningful to you?
  2. What are you truly passionate about?
  3. What are your talents?
  4. What are your core values?

By sitting down for a quiet hour, thinking about these questions and recording your thoughts you will be on your way to developing your personal mission statement.

Benefits of a Personal Mission Statement:

Once you have identified what is important to you and what you are good at your mission then informs your life strategy.  Everything from choosing where to live to choosing a job to deciding where to go on vacation is an easier choice because you have a model for making that choice.

I would love to hear what you uncover when you ask yourself these questions.

To comment, click on the speech bubble to the right
 of the blog post title (or click “leave a reply” at the 
end of the post), then click on the tiny orange speech 
bubble to the left at the bottom of the post.  
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say!


Assessing Job Interviews: Ace the (Library) Interview, Part 6

The Importance of Assessing Job Interviews:

This month I have dedicated my posts to job interviewing.  Topics have included the importance of knowing the organization, evaluating “fit,” preparing for common questions and knowing which questions to ask.  With interviewing practice makes perfect.  Like many skills, interviewing is something that you get better at each time you do it.  This final installment of the “Ace the (Library) Interview” series is about evaluating the process.

Points for assessing interviews include fit,

How Assessing Job Interviews is Done:

The process of job interview assessment is quite simple.  After the interview, take a few minutes to objectively evaluate how it went.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What three things worked well?
  • What three things might be improved?
  • How well would fit in the organization?
  • Would you be happy in this job?  Why or why not?

The more you know about yourself in terms of how you interview and what type of organization you would like to work in the better your chances of landing your dream job.

The Result of Assessing Job Interviews:

By paying attention to the process you will see your interview skills improve.  Paying attention to the process ultimately means you will be better able to choose the right job for yourself.  So the next time you have a job interview do yourself a favor and take a few moments to objectively evaluate the interview process.  By thinking  about what you might do differently (and what you would do the same) next time.

Has this series been helpful to you? I'd love to hear why or why not.  
If you liked this series, please share it with someone you know.  

This is the final in a six part series that provides useful tips for interviews. Although provided in the context of interviewing for professional library jobs, the information in this series has application for other industries as well.

Even Sharper

Back in July I wrote a post about Sharpening the Saw–Covey’s notion of taking time from work to rest and rejuvenate in order to be effective at work.  Once again it is time for me to change my focus for the next few weeks.  Instead of leadership and self-improvement I will be thinking about (and engaging in) family time, travel and holiday magic.  In January I will be back to work with a multi-part blog series on interview skills followed by two new workshops and a number of interesting project that are taking shape.

Best wishes for a festive holiday season and a happy, healthy and productive 2015!!

Coaching and Questioning

[The following was prepared for Leadership Lab participants.  It is posted here partly as an easy way to distribute the information to Leadership Lab participants, but also because of the wider usefulness of the content]

During the course of the next six weeks we are all going to be coaches. We are embarking together on a learning journey. Just what is a coach? A coach is someone who facilitates learning in others. Generally this is done by helping an individual to clarify a goal and identify actions toward meeting it. In Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, Mary Beth O’Neill writes that coaches approach clients with, “the kind of trained yet natural curiosity of a journalist or anthropologist to the leader’s work situation.” As such, it is important to understand just how to question your fellow participants (and indeed yourself) to facilitate this learning.

To facilitate learning in ourselves and others our goal is to question with a truly inquisitive spirit as opposed to a skeptical one. By questioning we want to help the coachee to grow in their understanding of solutions. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams describes moving from the “judger” path to the “learner” path by changing the way you question:

learnr vs. judger

Click on the image to improve the clarity.

While it is pretty natural to judge, it isn’t productive. If you feel yourself instinctively wanting to judge, simply acknowledge the feeling and control the impulse, instead opting for a more productive line of inquiry. This goes for coaching others as well as your internal dialogue. For many of us this will be a new way to approach challenges. The goal of each question should be to help bring about clarity on how to approach the challenge. Pondering such questions should help bring about wisdom. Here is a list of “wisdom access questions” to further assist in this new way of thinking:

What is this costing you?

What is the goal?

What is beyond the problem?

What is ahead?

What are you building toward?

What has to happen to call this project a success?

What’s in the way?

What would make the biggest difference?

What do you hope to accomplish?

What’s the first step?

What’s important about that?

What’s the ideal outcome?

What’s working for you?

What would you do differently?

What haven’t I asked that I should ask?

What needs to be said that has not been said?

What else do you have to say about that?

What is left to do to have this be complete?

What do you have invested in continuing to do it this way?

What do you suggest?

What is the simplest solution here?

What are you willing to give up?

Please keep this approach in mind not only in our group coaching sessions but also in your interactions with colleagues and perhaps most importantly, in your own internal dialogue.

Honor the Pauses

When was the last time you enjoyed a quiet moment? Such moments are rare treats in today’s multitasking society. But calm, meditative moments are essential for tapping into our creativity–the creativity that’s essential for problem solving, leadership and generally getting things done.

We often hear people say that they are too busy and need some quiet, but quiet is very rarely something that you luck into. Quiet is something worth seeking out in our daily lives. While it might not be realistic to carve a 90 minute yoga class or a walk in the park into our busy schedules, what about simply honoring the pauses inherent in our days? The next time you have a few minutes to wait in line at the grocery store or are waiting for a subway, why not use your time to rest your mind? Instead of getting frustrated at the next red light or slow traffic, why not appreciate the silence inside your car? Or perhaps occasionally enjoy the rare treat of consciously doing one task at a time?

We need quiet to process, analyze and plan the best way forward.  We need to stop.  Then we need to think.  And to do this we need to take advantage of the opportunities for quiet in every day.


Defining your personal vision

I recently met with a friend from high school who is now a successful PR manager for a multi-national software company.  We reconnected in the midst of his Summer-long sabbatical in a beautiful beach-front artist community, a town where he had spent numerous vacations and feel at home.  During the course of our conversation he half-jokingly explained to me a fantasy he has of opening a small deli in this town.  He was apologetic and almost embarrassed that he had had thought this out so clearly.  It got me thinking about the importance of fantasy in our lives.  It’s not so silly.  Fantasy puts you one step closer to a goal; from there you can see what it would take to make your fantasy a reality.

Shortly before I graduated from library school I was assigned the task of writing a letter to myself stating what I wanted to accomplish professionally in the following five years.    Looking back, I accomplished everything on that list within that time frame–everything.  If I had not taken the time to actually think of where I wanted to go in my career and written it down, I doubt I would have actually accomplished these things.  What I had done, and what my friend did by working on the details of his fantasy, was create a personal vision statement.

Visioning is something organizations do quite regularly to plan their future direction.  This is something we can capitalize on in our personal lives and to set our personal/professional trajectory. It is just one of the ways we improve our personal satisfaction by applying business principles to our personal lives.  Wondering where life will take you?  Why not work on your personal vision and determine where you will take your life!