In Safety Of Groups, Do You Attack Or Connect?

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a "thought bubble". It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I failed recently, at a presentation. And once I had a chance to think about it, I was thrilled! Because I learned an important leadership lesson about connecting with others.

Last year I was a part of a leadership development program in which I completed a group project. This year, I was asked to visit the new class and present on my project as an example of success, and to guide them through thinking about their own projects.

That is not what happened.

Instead, the group – 90% of whom I had never met – went on the attack. Rather than listening and questioning me with the goal of learning, they autopsied my project, finding fault with me for things they thought I should have done. They challenged some of the assumptions of the project and criticized me for not doing certain things, not understanding that we had tried those options and given up on them because they didn’t work. I stayed calm and responded to their challenges in an even way but I will admit that on the inside I was irritated and confused about why I was being attacked.

Afterward, I was praised for how I maintained my poise in the face of critique and that my lack of defensiveness was masterful! The meeting leader also said I was the best example of “centered leadership” she had seen live in some time. I disagreed until she pointed this out:

  • If we can’t honor and appreciate a chance to connect with others who think like us, how can we possibly be effective in connecting with others who don’t think like us?

And, with her perspective, I saw that I had in fact imparted a valuable lesson, just not the one I had intended.

I got to thinking about a blog post I wrote for Spin Sucks last year when I found myself in a similar situation. I had wanted to talk about how those of us in the nonprofit world measure our social media results. But because the title inadvertently ended up including a reference to “ROI,” the audience went on the attack. I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about – and that was just for starters.

And, again, privately, I was complimented on how I had “handled” the negative feedback.

Now I’m looking at that debacle through my new lens about honoring a chance to connect. My challengers weren’t interested in connecting with me; they were interested in setting me straight, and not in the nicest way possible.

Naturally I examined myself as well. Where had I sacrificed an opportunity to connect for the sake of being “right”? How about this. The most beautiful words someone can say to me are, “You were right!” That should give you a sense of my thinking.

Does it really make sense for us to make enemies of strangers, especially if we’re on the same side? I’d say that’s not smart networking. While my attackers walked away thinking I was a dope, had they stopped to consider what I might think of them for talking to me that way? Had I done the reverse?

My questions for you are:

  • Do you connect….or do you attack? What makes you choose one or the other?
  • What are the consequences of each approach?
  • Do you think some people aren’t important enough to connect with?
  • Should I make a video of me demonstrating this poise while people throw tomatoes at me? J/K I am not going to make the video.

So, please do share how you act in the safety of groups — do you feel compelled to go on the attack with supporters all around, or do you take another road and attempt to connect with the presenter knowing you could be in those same shoes? Not expecting any answers to that question, but it’s worth a thought or two about your own behavior in the safety of numbers. 

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No one loves a relentless and uncompromising antagonist - myself included. But winning an antagonist over to your position (one way or the other) is priceless.


Likewise, connecting with the like-minded isn't much of a leadership challenge. Or accomplishment. Great leaders, I like to imagine, successfully disarm critics and antagonists to drive results and reach the goals.


I find that I am my own worst enemy in this regard. Or, specifically, it is the self-centered juxtapositions of me that blind me to the larger implications and necessities of a world of we - a world in which the complexity of a infinite number of competing interests are not served by my lackluster presumptions, ambitions and [sigh] desperate want for validation, approval, and admiration.


What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Cliche, I know but I believe that wholeheartedly and the other thing i believe in is people who have the guts to stand up.


Anyone can be a lemming and that attitude pisses me off. There have been times in my life where i have opposed the common thinking because I don't agree with it. It is rare that I take the common viewpoint hence the name of my blog.


Why attack instead of giving constructive criticism? Attack is SO counter productive. It kills me to think that there is any merit in it other than to make you a stronger person for being mature enough to tolerate crap like that.


Do I attack? Never. I think i answered the next question above.

Do I think certain people are not important enough connecting with? Yes, assholes can take a flying leap otherwise no because you never know where the next gem is coming from. Imagine if we had not met? Ha!

I would love to see that video but only if it was done for fun otherwise why would you welcome it?


Enjoy your turkey weekend!


Hi Jayme!


I never go on the attack; it’s a complete waste of perfectly good energy.


I look at it in two ways; smart or stupid - in a respectful manner of course.


I share what I've done.


If you're in the presence of accomplished people, you don't have to worry about flack.


That only comes from people that haven't done shit in the real world.


In general, when you accomplish something worthwhile in life, you develop a respect for those who've done impactful work and those who desire to do impactful work.


So in due all respect, if you haven't accomplished anything in life, sit down, shut up and listen, you might learn something.


If you've exceeded my experience and expertise by actually having done something, I'll sit down, shut up and listen, because I know I'll learn something.


If you’re in a professional environment, you should act like it. Those who go on attack can go jump in a lake as far as I concerned.


Just being transparent.


 @Faryna So am I to try to win you over to my side that I didn't walk into either room like a huge bag of hot air?


 @rdopping Hey thanks Ralph!


I like constructive criticism. My project was already completed, though, so in that example, it really wasn't time for them to offer CC. Also, since they had never completed a project like this one, they really didn't have much to offer me anyway!


But when it comes to the Spin Sucks blog - let's just say one individual lived up to his reputation of being extremely rude.


Perhaps I'll do an interpretative dance instead.


 @Mark_Harai Hey Mark, thanks for weighing in. I know in the meeting I was in that the disconnect was that they were accomplished people - just not at what I had done and needed to teach them to do. I would have been open to their info (and pardon the caps) IF THEY HAD GIVEN IT TO ME ONE YEAR EARLIER. At the time of my presentation, however, the project was completed, and constructive feedback was not necessary. I was so frustrated that this got lost!


 @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Oh, no need to be sorry. I had to laugh at your use of the word "provincial." But that's all I'll say about that word.


The experience also got me thinking about the instance in the past year where someone wrote an article about how only people under 25 should handle company social media. People crawled out from under rocks to give her a hard time.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes You're so right, Josh. Thanks for supporting Jenn, too! When someone has opinions as a blogger or presenter and you stick  your neck out, you can expect some opposing views. However, I've not experienced that sort of attack in a group setting or on a blog the way she has. 


I was involved in comments on that Spin Sucks post; I know what she went through. It wasn't pretty. I think there were some A Listers throwing a few stones at a guest blogger.  


Happy Thanksgiving, Friend!!


 @jennwhinnem Jenn, I am a jerk. I totally thought this was @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  experience. Now that I know it was yours I take it all back.


Kidding, of course. It was a shock to see you respond. I clearly missed that.


You know, that one individual who lived up to his reputation is wasting his own time. You can choose to ignore his words but he spent the time writing them. You still had a choice and I assume you chose wisely.