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Be Aware of the Arena

Last weekend, my youngest son had his 10th birthday. He said he had a great weekend, except for one thing...

The "good" things included receiving some great presents, opening his own bank account with £1000 contribution from his grandparents, having a friend over to stay, playing football and on the X-box, and on Sunday, going go-karting and visiting friends. Oh, and his favourite team (Liverpool) beat Manchester United!

A perfect weekend ... except when his Mum expressed her disappointment about something. She felt embarrassed that he showed some poor social skills by not responding when her friends wished Matthew a happy birthday. In the car immediately afterwards, she told him this.

There was one big problem for Matthew. He is sensitive to criticism and his best friend was in the car when she did it.

Jane's intent (to teach her son better social skills) was good. Her timing wasn't.

I remember being told off by my mum in front of other people. Feeling sensitive, I felt upset with her for being insensitive.

The more defensive we feel, the less open we are to feedback. All that happens is we resent the giver of the feedback. I could see that Matthew was experiencing the same thing.

In my work with corporate leaders, I remind them that conversation dynamics are different as soon as there are additional people present. I call it, "The arena". Rightly or wrongly, we can feel like we are "on display" and all eyes and ears are on us. At such times, we feel self conscious. It intensifies our sense of separate self (otherwise known as ego).

This is what lies behind the old adage, "Praise publicly; criticise privately."

So think about the context as well as the content of your communication. If you want them to be receptive to feedback, then choose an appropriate time and place.

Courage is about speaking from (and to) the heart. An honest message also needs to be delivered with some sensitivity.


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