Spinach in your teeth

What do you call someone who tells you that you have spinach in teeth?

A friend!

Do you have a mentor or savvy friend who tells you when you have the equivalent of spinach in teeth for your behaviors at work or in your career?

You probably have pals who want to support you by telling you what they think you want to hear. They either don’t say anything or they only say positive comments, even if they see you shooting yourself in the foot.

Why are they unwilling to point out behaviors that may be holding you back? Most people want to be positive and supportive. They may also be concerned about how you’d react and don’t want to risk your getting defensive, or losing you as a friend.

However, I find my most valued friends are the ones who gently but assertively say things like, “Are you sure you want to send that email?” or “What do you see are the advantages of your telling off your coworker?” or “Next time that colleague bullies you in public, work to not get defensive. Others will see what an idiot he is.”

In fact, when I enter a coaching agreement with someone new, I tell them that part of my role is to tell them if I see they are doing something that I think is hurting them — the equivalent of spinach in their teeth. My philosophy is I’d rather bring it to their attention and if they are unaware of the harm it is doing them, they can now consciously change it.

But how one phases the observation is key. If you sound judgmental and critical, it will likely cause the receiver to get defensive or hurt. So you have to be very careful in your word choice. Starting with something like, “If a friend saw you doing something that the friend thought was going to be harmful to you, would you want to know?” If the person says no, then no need to go further. If s/he says, yes, then continue with, “I know I’ve done this in the past and after a while, I understood how it was undermining my desire to be treated respectfully by my coworkers. I know how painful it was for me and I’d like to spare you from that pain. Here’s what I’ve observed that I think is preventing you from being treated as you’d like…”

If you’d like to encourage your friends and mentors to be more forthcoming with their observations that could be helpful to you, just ask. Tell them, “I’d like to see if you’d help me see my blind spots. Would you be willing to point out anything I do or say that you think gets in the way of my being successful?” Most will be impressed with your asking and some will take you up on the request and let you know. If you receive their messages without getting defensive, and work to change your behavior, you will show your seriousness at making the changes they point out.

We all get spinach in our teeth, literally and figuratively. We need to ensure we have people around us who are comfortable telling us. You can help those people feel comfortable doing so.