We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. ~ Epictetus
Yesterday, I was on a conference call, the specifics of which are not important for this post.
Suffice it to say this:
I went into this call having a clear idea of the point I wanted to make and the outcome I thought would be best for all involved.
There was only one problem, a big one: I was wrong.
Well, not wrong, per se, but let’s say … misguided.
Shut up, listen, and learn
The purpose of the call was to create a gameplan for how to approach a particular audience at a particular time. My error was not having a clear enough understanding of the type of people the audience will be comprised of.
And this was clearly pointed out by another participant on the call.
In this moment of harsh (but correct) critique, I faced a decision:
- Do I let ego drive me to press my point further, even though I knew right away that the plan I’d articulated would not be optimal?
- Or do I shut up, listen, learn, and wait for the next opportunity to provide value that would drive the conversation ahead?
Well, my initial gut reaction was the first one. Yes … instinctively, I felt my heels digging into the floor beneath me.
But that feeling passed. And it’s a good thing, too.
If I’d stuck to my guns, the call could have gone downhill really fast — not because conflict or disagreement is bad (it’s not), but because I would have been arguing out of stubbornness and obstinance, as opposed to articulating a worthwhile position.
If I truly believed I was right, then I would have stood my ground and fought for my point. But fighting for a flawed point would have just wasted everyone’s time.
And while my ability to vanquish the instinctive flash of my ego with humility was the major reason I was able to act properly in this situation — shut up, listen, and learn — I believe pride had a lot to do with it too.
But aren’t pride and ego the same thing? Wasn’t my pride the reason I almost got myself into trouble in the first place?
The good side of pride
Remember this definition of pride:
a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
Yes, the personal pride that is driven by the first part of the definition — a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements — is what caused my heels to dig in as soon as my point was criticized. I’m human. I couldn’t just magically rid myself of that primal desire to be right, even though I knew right away that I was wrong.
But look at the second two parts of the definition
- the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated
- from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
What I wanted most from this conference call was the best possible outcome for the group and for the project. That’s why I was able to use the recognition of being wrong to suppress my ever-pugilistic ego.
Plus, I like being known as someone who listens more than he speaks, who communicates effectively, and who is a quintessential team player. I want people to ascribe these traits to me. Here was a great opportunity to show that I actually have them.
Conscious becomes subconscious
Let me say this …
I didn’t necessarily think these thoughts consciously in the moment. Looking back on the experience, though, I can see how they all subconsciously contributed to what occurred within me and drove my reaction.
I recognize this because it wasn’t the first time such a situation has arisen for me. I have made a conscious effort over time to get better at controlling my ego so that what it wants in a singular moment does not supersede what I want most in all moments.
Over time, those conscious reactions become subconscious. In a sense, I’ve trained myself … and I’m sure glad I have. It helps me in situations like I found myself in yesterday morning.
I walked away proud of myself for handling the situation like I wanted to, plus ever-humble about the constant vigilance required to control my ego so that it does not control me.
Because, as we all know, it sure wants to.
How about you?
Have you had any similar experiences recently?
Do you have a particular strategy for handling situations where you get rocked by a critique that you are not prepared for? (Especially when the critique is correct?)
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.