Courageous Listening: Are You Open to Criticism?

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I often hear people talk about the need for courageous conversations – those discussions that put a pit in your stomach. The ones that you lose sleep over. The ones you rehearse over and over in order to get each word right. And the ones that you probably avoid as much as possible. In some vernacular we call them “Courageous Conversations.” In Eklund Consulting-ese, we call it “Punching the Shark.” 

But I’ve been rethinking this notion a bit. Or a lot.

Regardless of nomenclature, the notion of conducting difficult conversations almost universally puts the onus on the person speaking. The speaker is the one rehearsing and fretting. The speaker is the person taking the risk. And that’s where I think we’ve given short shrift to the duality of hard conversations.

The reality is that we need to be forever mindful of being a “Courageous Listener.” This is not natural for most of us. We’re naturally defensive. Our body language can speak volumes about our frustration or anger toward the speaker. Instead of listening, we can simply be waiting to refute.

If we were better Courageous Listeners, the difficult conversations would increase in ease over time. The first time someone approaches us could be hard for them. But if we were great listeners and empathetic processors, the second and third and fourth conversations would cause far less loss of sleep.

But if we’re obtuse, intimidating, or outwardly recalcitrant when approached by others, how much more courage are we asking of them to come to us the next time?

Average humans are bad at receiving criticism.

Above average humans are okay at receiving it.

Exceptional humans seek criticism.

If we can adopt an approach and a persona that invites people to be uncomfortable with us, we are freeing ourselves and others from potentially damaging stress.

A Courageous Conversation isn’t a one-off event. It’s an ongoing partnership between us and others.

 How much courage are you causing others to muster? What are you going to change today to enter into that partnership?