Serena Williams had a historic win at Wimbledon this year, capturing her 22nd grand slam title. Of her victory, she said: "I had to start focusing on the positives and not focusing on that one loss per tournament, which really isn't bad. Once I started focusing on the positives, I realized, I'm pretty good." On the other hand, Angelique Kerber, who lost to Williams at Wimbledon, said: "I did not lose the match. She just won."
There is a prevalent theme here for both athletes: Reinforce the positives and starve the failures.
As a coach, I learned that lesson the hard way.
When I was a men's soccer coach at Graceland University in Iowa, I was constantly trying to improve my team's performance by helping my weaker players get better. I was dedicating much of my energy and time to helping those players and not paying as much attention to my top players. In my mind, the latter were doing well so they didn't need my help as much as those who were struggling.
A colleague, the women's soccer coach at the same university, reached out to me and gave me some feedback on my coaching skills. "Ivan, focus on your top players," he said. "Sometimes, you need to decide when it's time to leave people behind." I didn't take his feedback well. That was my area of expertise. I had a Ph.D. in sports psychology. I was teaching a leadership course and winning awards for my coaching. I was too arrogant to accept feedback from others on something I perceived myself to be the best at. My ego got in the way.
Until one day, I discovered that my colleague was right. I realized that while I was willing to take feedback on my weaknesses, I was not willing to listen to feedback on my perceived strengths. Only upon reflection, I was able to shift my attitude and seek and accept feedback on areas I was expert at. I had to get rid of the arrogant self-talk of "I was the best at this."
That was a turning point in my career. The moment I decided to be open to feedback from others on what I perceived myself to be the best at, everything changed for me. Within eight months, the team I was coaching qualified for their first-ever national championship.
Most people look for feedback on what they're struggling with versus what they're excelling in. They would typically ask: "What can I improve on?" Instead of seeking feedback on your weaknesses, focus on your positives. Ask during performance reviews: "What am I doing well? How can I build on it?" I am a big believer in focusing on something you are good at to make it exceptional.
Of course, you also need to know what you're not doing well, but don't let it take up all your energy and efforts. Allow yourself to celebrate and enjoy your successes and build on them.
Most importantly, humble yourself to listen and accept feedback. It took a paradigm shift for me to open myself up for feedback on my strengths. The payoff has been well worth it.
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SITUATION: Your boss gives you critical feedback HOW YOU REACT: You direct your negative thoughts towards him or her, rather than self-evaluating yourself. You may also think people are jealous of your work ethic and ideas, or you think they dislike you
SITUATION: Someone gives you criticism at work HOW YOU REACT: You direct your negative thoughts towards yourself and think you're a 'bad' employee or incompetent
SITUATION: A co-worker calls you out on an assignment or typo HOW YOU REACT: If you're responding to others, this criticism will make you feel angry, bitter and resentful
SITUATION: You get criticized, but take it very personally REACTION: After the incident, you feel upset or embarrassed about the criticism, and don't feel like yourself.
SITUATION: You get criticism and lash out REACTION: Instead of rationalizing with the critic, you decide to argue back, possibly even threatening to quit
SITUATION: This response would definitely be the worst. REACTION: Instead of working on your flaws or talking it out with your critic, you completely ignore them and continue with your actions. You might purposely slack off, secretly look for a new job and not make any of the recommended changes
Follow Dr. Ivan Joseph on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrIvanJoseph