Dealing with C.R.A.P.

Want to make the world a better place? Want your organization to run more smoothly? Want to change the way people view their community or work environment? Be prepared for CRAP. CRAP = Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure

Criticism…talk about a gift for people who believe it is better to give than to receive! One observation I have from the field and working with dozens upon dozens of communities – if you are being innovative people will ask what your evidence-base is; if you are drawing upon an evidence-base people will challenge whether that evidence rings true locally and will challenge you to be innovative. We need to balance innovation and evidence-informed service delivery. We need data to defend criticism from uninformed outsiders, but also be open to criticizing ourselves in the spirit of improvement. Criticism is normal. A bunch of “yes people” do not advance ideas or improvement. About the only type of criticisms that I reject are unsolicited ones based upon uninformed opinion and vague criticism that I don’t know how to interpret or put into actionable improvement.

Rejection…often seen as the flipside of acceptance, one of the toughest lessons in my professional career has been not taking rejection personally. I have confused rejection with ostracism. Rejection happens both passively and actively…the former keeping me up at night and the latter sometimes raising my “fight or flight” response. I have come to expect that people will reject new ideas or even proven ideas if it collides with their worldview. So, to address the possibility of rejection I have learned more and more about how the introduction of an idea –new or old – is sometimes more important than the idea itself if we want people to have openness to the experience of a new idea. Sometimes this means being a straight shooter, rather provocative, with some charisma and perhaps even some bravado. Other times it can mean patience, soft spoken and almost apologetic introduction of an idea or facts. Other times still it is a big room full of people where there are more likely to be some kindred spirits, whereas other times it is a small kitchen table trying to pull together a small coalition of like-minded people.  Situational awareness and emotional intelligence is so key for creating an environment where rejection is less likely.

Assholes…so many ways to use this category. First off, I recommend taking Bob Sutton’s “Asshole Rating Self Exam (ARSE)” for insight and perhaps comic relief, though I think it is spot on in many respects. You can also take a gander at Cracked’s “5 Scientific Reasons Why People Act Like Assholes” which is also illuminating. The biggest assholes I have had to deal with are “professional” controversialists. I find it maddening when their polemical assertions are pointed in the wrong direction. How many times do I have to deal with being seen as evil because I helped a homeless person access housing (that is sustainable) but couldn’t solve their poverty? Was being poor and homeless better than poor and housed? Sigh. Also on my butthole list (in no particular order) are: people who create data or misinterpret data to “prove” their point; people who constantly interject without listening; people who degrade homeless persons; other consultants that are so competitive they spend most of their time putting others down; people who hurt children or puppies; men who beat their significant other; people that cut in front of me in line or in traffic; people who constantly rant on Facebook; okay – I will stop here.

Pressure…careful what you ask for rings true when I think of pressure. If you are successful, people can want you to be even more successful. Go the extra mile to meet deadlines to impact change? People may expect you to run a marathon weekly – or even daily. Finally got the public/media attention that you wanted for your issue? Now you will find yourself potentially the spokesperson for everything. Prepared an awesome presentation to explain a complex issue? You can feel the pressure to re-work other people’s presentations…become known as the “presentation guru”. Answer your work phone in the evening when clients call? You may feel the pressure to be “on” 24/7. You get the point. Pressure can start external, but it is when we internalize that pressure it can consume us…burn us out…diminish our desire to make positive change happen.  Positive tension is a good thing in most instances, so holding things in balance is key to success.

CRAP happens. If you are prepared for it, you can ride the wave and even use it to your advantage. If you let it consume you, you will find yourself buried and unhappy – and less likely to want to affect change. Some tips:

  • Spend time thinking about how you are likely going to be criticized in advance of launching your new approach.
  • Be open to feedback – even critical feedback – when it is provided in the spirit of improvement.
  • Think of the best ways to get your ideas across – new or old – depending on the audience at hand.
  • Practice a variety of approaches of generating support for the same subject matter.
  • Don’t respond to assholes…their quest is to tear down without a solution focus. Investing your time with them only legitimizes their assertions.
  • Determine when and how you will respond to external pressures so that you can still exercise appropriate self care.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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