Feedback – welcomed when good, disbelieved when bad. No one likes to hear bad news. The truth is, we grow from our failures, not our successes. For that reason, in every context, people seek the help of expert consultants to ensure that they maximize their chances for success and growth after past failures.
Part of that learning curve includes all parties accepting responsibility for their role in a failure. In the context of criminal cases, criminal defendants get a crash-course in taking responsibility for their actions – everything from their plea allocution, where they have to say out loud what they did wrong, to their sentence, where they accept a consequence – the structure of the criminal justice system is designed to assist people in taking responsibility for their wrongful actions.
Unfortunately, no such structure exists for the rest of the world. It doesn’t exist in corporate America, where the name of the game is, “Who can I frame for my own ineptitude?” Mediocrity fails-up in Corporate America. The untalented have a skill set that intelligent people just aren’t offering – kissing up, placating, and rubber-stamping. When a litany of negative feedback requiring work is juxtaposed against effusive praise, it isn’t surprising why it’s usually the honest person giving valid feedback who gets canned. “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” the adage goes. Universally, consultants of all types report that when they tell a client the truth, there is the highest risk of being let go.
It may seem counterintuitive that the people who can offer a client the most help are also first on the chopping block, but there is a psychological reason for it. The term is cognitive dissonance, and it is the psychological resistance we have to anything which is not consistent with our own beliefs. If we believe we constructed a solid team, we are going to have a hard time accepting feedback to the contrary.
In the prison consulting context, if someone desperately does not want their loved one to go to prison, they are not going to want to accept the reality that sometimes there are no options left, other than facing the consequences of our actions.
All of us experience cognitive dissonance: it’s a built-in psychological framework that reminds us of our core value sets. However, it can also be a major hinderance to growth.
Getting to the next level
When evaluating feedback, it is important to always consider motive and bias. If you evaluate motive and bias rather than acting on feelings, you can override your cognitive dissonance in decision-making.
Here’s the reality: a consultant or independent contractor has absolutely no motive to give you misleading or harmful feedback. In fact, if anything, they know the numbers – they know it places their future at risk to tell you the truth because it is the newbie complaining about the home team. For that reason, when at great personal risk, a consultant nevertheless provides you with negative feedback, understand that it is the ultimate act of kindness. They are telling you something that everyone knows, but haven’t been saying out loud. What you need to ask yourself is why are you hearing this from an outsider and not your own team?
Fake it, so you don’t have to make it
If you’re conference calling or networking, you’re always busy and accomplishing nothing. Pick a context and guaranteed, the most visible is the least productive. The attorney on TV shoving jingles and ads in your face is the one who will outsource your work to a 2-year associate. The prison consultant who promises you an acquittal and apology is the one who will take your money and do nothing for you. In corporate America, the guy who complains about how busy he is and brings in multiple consultants that he never listens to, then complains about it and ignores inquiry to correct, is just wasting your company’s time and taking your money. Such a person will inevitably surround themselves with other corporate coasters, who just never seem to “see” the critical emails providing feedback, and never bother to implement the recommended strategies, because they are overly impressed with their own three years of experience and never learned how to take advice. In any field, with any face, these people are siphoning success from your hands, and are a part of the toxic environment in which failure grows.
It’s tough to realize and accept that something you pour time and effort into has become toxic. It’s even harder to accept that the people you have welcomed into your circle voluntarily are part of toxic environment that has lead to your failure. But part of detoxing your environment is accepting the notion that you do not increase your value by devaluing others. Look around, who in your environment has deflected attention from themselves, not by providing feedback that can create an action item toward progress, but rather by gunning for or recommending you remove people who are providing that feedback. Conduct of that nature is called devaluing, and it’s a creation of an insecure person trying to increase their own standing by devaluing someone else. In reality, no one’s value diminishes from someone else’s failure to see it. The loser in the end is you, if you allow this sort of toxicity to permeate your thoughts or actions — because you are losing someone who cares about you, and are left with someone self-interested and unscrupulous. Detox from the situation and look at the facts, and who has given them to you, not who the facts came from.
It’s never too late to do the right thing
Life doesn’t give us a rewind button. We cannot undo the injustice, unfairness, or pain of what we have put someone through, but it is never too late to do the right thing. Whether it is done to minimize a sentence through the payment of restitution, or simply to calm a conscience – taking responsibility for our actions and owning our mistakes to make those we have wronged whole again, is always the best practice. Hindsight is always 20/20, and many, many clients circle back months, or even years, later and apologize to me, realizing that they just weren’t ready to hear my advice at the time, but understood that I was right. I’m always happy to hear this, not because I need the “I told you so,” but rather because now I know they are on the path to real growth — not only did they make that realization, they learned that taking responsibility for wrongfully rebelling against someone who was helping them was a mistake.
Sight, for the willfully blind
The unfortunate thing about mistakes is that we rarely know we are making them at the time. We trust the people we trust, and we make the decisions we make, and it’s only when we find ourselves wading through problems that we see the error. The great news is that there is an easy solution. When an expert gives you advice, if it feels hard to hear, ask yourself if what makes it hard to hear is that it is shining light on truths you already know. By listening, you are gaining the gift of sight, while others choose to be willfully blind. When an expert tells you the best path forward, you aren’t going to get the benefit of a good outcome if you don’t listen. For some reason, clients believe they can just sit and talk with a consultant, but continue to do whatever they want, then act surprised when nothing changes. Even worse, clients can become upset with the consultant when they receive pushback for not following the agreed upon course of action. Ironically, failure to follow the advice hurts the client, not the consultant. Letting a consultant go just frees them up to work with appreciative clients, but it leaves you in the same place you were before: failing.
A goal without a plan is just a dream
Everyone has heard the motivational phrase, “A goal without a plan is just a dream,” but what separates the people who change their lives and their businesses for the better from the people who don’t is whether or not they implement this concept. Anyone can have a great idea or even a vision. They may even think they have a plan to turn it into a reality. The problem is, there’s nothing particularly exciting about the fine print, but the devil is absolutely in the details.
Having a solid foundation from which to move forward is essential. If the infrastructure isn’t there, anything you build is doomed to failure. The number one roadblock to success is breaking down each task into its component parts, and ensuring that whomever you have working on that component (if it isn’t you) is an expert in that craft.
You wouldn’t hire a real estate attorney to handle your criminal case. Someone with no knowledge of the prison system shouldn’t be your prison consultant. You shouldn’t hire someone using cheap templates rather than professional tools and training to do your marketing. And a conflict-avoidant introvert probably isn’t first choice for a project manager. The point is, give people the roles they will excel in, even if it isn’t the role they want. And if an expert helps you craft a path forward, do yourself a favor – listen.