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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