Look, I get it. The truth (telling it and hearing it) makes us jittery. But when we keep everything nonconfrontational and PC, we end up unconsciously stepping over every which way we lie, sugarcoat, and walk on eggshells. And in the end, those lies hold us back from real productivity, success, and happiness.
So although I know the prospect of hearing (and giving) negative feedback in such a blunt way probably makes you want to run for the hills, I’m here to tell you it’s actually one of the most positive things you can do. What I’ve learned over 25+ years of coaching is that gracefully (operative word) telling the real, honest to goodness truth is the only way to make effective change. And usually, it’s an unequivocal truth that jumpstarts a person and a team.
And I don’t think talking about what’s negative has to be so, well, negative. Asking how we suck doesn’t have to be all dark and heavy. I think outing what sucks about ourselves—and laughing about it—should even be fun. (What?)
Israeli that I am (see: often stubborn, opinionated, and righteous) I wish I could claim custody of this epiphany, but (even) I can’t. It came to me a few years ago when, for my wife’s birthday, a group of our nearest and dearest went to see Avenue Q and, besides finding it a hysterically clever show, there was one number in it that particularly inspired us all: “It Sucks to Be Me.”
Imagine, if you will (and are willing), a cast of monster hand puppets—from an unemployed puppet to a serially single puppet to a therapist puppet with no clients to a Gary Coleman puppet—singing a song about how each of their lives sucks worse than the others.
[Spoiler alert: the Gary Coleman puppet won.]
Here’s an excerpt from the song:
Hi, Kate Monster
When I was little I thought I would be
A big comedian on late night TV
But now I’m thirty-two and as you can see I’m not
Oh well, it sucks to be me
No, it sucks to be me
No, it sucks to be broke and unemployed
And turning thirty-three, it sucks to be me
You think your life sucks?
I think so
Your problems aren’t so bad!
I’m kinda pretty and pretty damn smart
Thanks! I like romantic things like music and art
And as you know I have a gigantic heart
So why don’t I have a boyfriend?
F-ck! It sucks to be me…
The song was so dead-on, so ridiculously (and awesomely) human, it got very clear to our clan watching that the very key to finding solace in all of our suckage was what we had always believed: lightening up about it.
Hell. Putting it to music if we must.
You see. If you lighten up about your suckage, then it lessens its grip on you. The very last thing our dark side wants to see is the light of day. Because things like fear, righteousness, jealousy, envy, and all of the seven deadlies want to stay in the dark of your mind where they can fester and grow like mold.
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Okay. Now back to work…
Nearly every CEO I work with wants to know how to increase productivity. But when I ask them what they think the problem is, they tend to blame external factors like the market or their competitor. So I start asking them to look at things (and themselves) in a different way.
So yes. I have them start singing. Now, now, not in the Avenue Q showtune way, but rather in the rat-ing themselves out way. If a leader in a company can’t own what doesn’t work about him or herself, how will the employees do so?
[Spoiler alert: they won’t.]
A leader leads by example (aka it’s my turn)
Figuring it only fair if I have my clients go after every which way they suck in their career, in their relationships with their co-workers, in their homelife, and any other area of their life where they are less than proud—I out my areas of suckage as well, and ask my executive team to do the same.
We’ve curated an executive-wide “what sucks about me” conversation. First, we set up the context of the conversation—we would have fun owning what doesn’t work about ourselves. We knew we’d end up rocking our sales target as a result of the conversation and our commitment to upping our company’s level of physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity. So each of us took a turn and said “here’s what sucks about me.” After each of us took our turn, two other executives were asked to name another thing that sucked about us. So once everyone had the chance to go, each person had three negative traits to tackle and the entire team voted on which one of the three traits each executive should take on and take down.
Fun, right? Okay. In our world, it most certainly was.
What next? Once we all were handed our sucky trait to take on, we were sent to write out how the trait plays out in our lives using a scale (we like scales here at HG). On a scale from 1-10, we were to describe what the trait sounded like, felt like, and looked like to others.. A rating of 1 depicted where we were completely unconscious to the trait and a 10 was its polar opposite, us and our trait in its highest state. Creating a scale enhances our ability to pay attention when things are off and the trait gets triggered, and also to consciously create a state of 8, 9, or 10.
So what sucky trait of mine was chosen? My team asked me to work on the Reluctant Admitter.
[Spoiler alert: I am not great at admitting when I am not happy and I hold onto said alleged hurt like a bulldog does to a chew toy.]
Here’s my scale.
- What? I am FINE, I feel good and I am at least an 8. I am always an 8 go check yourself, I am Shir Nir, do you know who I am?
- What? I am FINE, I feel good and I am at least an 8. I am producing results and I am making sh-t happen, I have no issues and if I did, I will sort them out myself.
- I am tired, I get up early every day and that is the reason. I am producing the results, but I can feel that I am a little off, I don’t want anyone’s help. All I need is a glass of wine tonight and to pass out at 9 pm.
- I am not at my best, but I think that not my best is still better than most people. I am only going to let my wife know if she asks and bugs me.
- I am off and I know and feel it, I need/want some help because I admit that I am slightly off. I still don’t want to tell my partners at HG because they will want to coach me and give me homework that I don’t want or need.
- I admit that I am off or hurt by something (not that I know what it is) and I know that I am not happy. I know I should speak to someone but I don’t until I must. I speak to my wife and maybe go to one of the partners if my wife threatens to tell them.
- I am off and miserable but I still try to avoid dealing, I want to hide it and I do for a little but know that this is not right, I speak to my wife after she asks me and after a little conversation with myself about whether I should or shouldn’t. I let her help me and get back into what I need to do and get resolved and into my heart.
- I suck and I know it. I know I am off and unresolved. I still want to hide a little because I am Israeli, but I can’t tolerate it and I speak to my wife or one of my partners, who help me get on the right path to resolution, love, and happiness.
- I can tell when I am off. I assume it’s me and happily deal with my sh-t when I get upset, unresolved, or annoyed with someone or something someone did. I proudly use it as an example in my coaching of others.
- I have fun telling on myself and tell the truth about everything, I am playful and always open to play and to be contributed to. I am constantly laughing at myself with compassion and love.
And there you have it. Are you wondering if I felt bad, embarrassed, or guilt-ridden about my scale? Quite the opposite, actually. I was proud of it. Not of the trait itself, but of the freedom in which I owned it, laughed at it, and was calling it out for what it was—just one of the very few things (ha) that sucks about me. And I knew if I was fully accountable for the trait, shined a light on it, went public with it, and put in promises about it, I would not only lighten up about it, I would have its leash permanently in my hands.
If you want your results and your relationships to improve, then as the leader, you have to go first. If you’re stuck in the cycle of telling yourself your problems are because of someone or something else, there is nothing you can do about it. You’re stuck. So you have to start to catch yourself first and model it for your team before you can expect them to.
Over and over again, when executives make a shift to bring more accountability to the table, their teams become more effective. And it starts by sharing the truth. We all have a certain resistance to our own suckage in our own way, and in some instances more than others. And real breakthroughs (for you and your company) show up when you’re ready to deal with the very thing you don’t want to admit. But when you do, your world alters.
Love (even if I won’t always readily admit it),