One question you should never ask your mother

My mom and dad have spent their lives reinforcing their kids’ self-esteem.  Let me first say “thank you” to them.  Secondly, because of this, there is one question that they can’t or won’t answer honestly.  The question is, “What do I need to improve about myself?”  Asking your mom, dad, spouse, or kids this question is pointless.  Either they will tell you that you have no faults or hurt your feelings – neither of which is helpful.  Take for example Paul Sr. and his son Paul Jr. on American Choppers.  Senior thinks Junior is a total d-bag because of their on-going feud regarding the value of Junior’s 20% stake in Orange County Choppers.

It is imperative that business leaders continually improve their interpersonal skills, because, face it – people do business with people they like.  The more likable you are, the larger your network becomes.  So if not your mother, whom do you ask about your image?  I offer the following random suggestions.

1)   A retired fighter pilot – Retired fighter pilots are trained to evaluate their surroundings, make split second decisions, and react decisively.  As such, they are able to assess expeditiously and respond succinctly.  I recently verified this hypothesis.  I asked a former fighter pilot, a man I barely know, how others perceive me and what interpersonal skills I need to work on.  He nailed me.  And it was entirely helpful. (If a fighter pilot is unavailable, other high-ranking retired military officers will suffice.)  The point is, rely on someone with high emotional intelligence, forthright communication, and a proactive disposition to jumpstart your journey of self-correction.

2)   Your boss – Bosses don’t generally like to give bad performance reviews.  So, they use the sandwich approach – two big positives and slight negative squeezed in between.  Pay very close attention to that negative.  Don’t assume it’s minor.  Treat the negative aspects of performance reviews as the most critical part of the feedback process.  These “opportunities for improvement” either tell you something you don’t already know or shed light on something you’ve been ignoring.  Either way, it is in your best interest to absorb the criticism, learn from it, and do something about it.

3)   Yourself – Listen to yourself sometime.

  1. Do you preface every conversation with a history of your qualifications?  [Perception:  You are presupposing that your opinions have no credibility with your audience.  You are probably right, therefore, don’t say anything and just listen.  See also “blowhard.”]
  2. Do you excuse your rudeness by announcing “I just tell it like it is”?  [Perception: I’m telling you like it is, others think you are obnoxious.  Rather, focus on listening, measure your responses, and speak diplomatically.]
  3. Do you use technical jargon when you talk to people outside of your specialized discipline? [Perception: You are alienating yourself from those around you.  You come across as a disconnected academic.  See also, “loquacious.”]

Continual pursuit of excellence is not just about achieving operational efficiency.  It includes learning about your annoying interpersonal glitches and disciplining yourself to minimize them, or better yet, overcoming them altogether.  We our all born with certain and varied tendencies over which we have little control.  Fortunately, we are also born with a filter between our brain and our mouth.  Learning to use that filter is totally within your control.

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