Managing Criticism and Expectations as a Rezooming Solo Practitioner

My oldest son was a victim of what I call ostrich syndrome. It was his first internship for a large film outfit in California. He was very proud of his internship and took great pride in doing everything they told him to do. He collated, vacuumed, made coffee and was a stand up guy for all jobs needed. At the end of the internship he received a grade of C+. He was floored. He called me railing at the unfairness of the grade and the critique he received of his work on the last day of his internship. Why didn’t they say something to him sooner. All they needed to do was tell him and he would have done it again or better.

The film company review of his tenure as their intern stated he’d collated incorrectly, vacuumed while they were on the phone, made really bad coffee and never asked what else he could do. He always waited to be asked (don’t I know that!)

Because he did not inquire and he was in California confrontation was not in the cards (I’m from NY; confronting someone about not doing their job is a sport here). They were happy to let him think he was doing a great job. He made no effort to inquire how he was doing. They in turn made no effort to guide him to a better way. It was a very hard lesson for him to endure, but one he needed to learn. This experience taught him to be a proactive worker, inquiring about what he has done, can do and what he might do better.

Like my son, we Rezoomers have been doing things on our own for years now. We figure if someone wants to change the way we do things they will tell us. Not so my Rezoomer friends!! Think of the work place, even as a solo looking for clients or mentors, as a very large state of ‘California’. No one wants to criticize us. We are just starting anew. As people help us get back on our feet they may let us putter along incorrectly, without so much as a ‘by your leave’ that we are totally missing the boat.

Up until opening our solos practices, we Rezoomers have managed our lives in a vacuum. Our lives were out of the professional spotlight doing whatever we have chosen to do with little or no help…and without criticism.

Now that we’ve Rezoomed and done so as solo practitioners (a double-whammy) how do we handle criticism when it comes our way on both fronts? It is a tough question I have been faced with it recently. Rezoomers are a special breed of solos. We have practiced before, have a level of expertise from a ‘previous life’ and now we embark on a revitalization of a career.

This revitalization must, as Jeff Rutledge says in his column this month, follow certain ‘Service Lessons for the Exceptional Client Experience. Jeff’s Service Lessons should be applied to the process of rezooming, too. We must be able to solicit and accept both accolade and criticism from our clients and others in our profession and lives.

Jeff’s five-point discussion in Service Lessons should be applied to ensure a positive attorney client experience and provide you feedback from reluctant clients or mentors. Applying Jeff’s method to working with organizations you respect will enable you to receive valuable feed back on your work product while giving the client the comfort level they need to speak candidly about the legal services you are supplying and what they want from you.

As a Rezoomer, we know about Jeff’s First Lesson, using a client or mentors name, greeting them warmly, and being genuine. We want to meet as many people as we can as Rezoomers (I speak to anyone in an elevator, as well). Yet, due to our age or prior experience, people may find it intimidating to criticize our work product.

As a solo Rezoomer when you work for a group and provide them with a service, follow Jeff’s rule #1 – Always treat them with respect. You chose to offer your services to the company/group. It is your responsibility to make them feel comfortable speaking to you about the service you are providing even if it is negative.

However, if you sense they feel uncomfortable speaking to you about your work product, don’t let them off the hook. It is up to you to make sure you are meeting the mark in service and if you aren’t, obtaining constructive feedback. This means you must inquire about how you are doing and provide a methodology to get a useful response.

It helps if you start the discussion and ask for concrete suggestions. Make every effort to do this face-to-face or over the phone rather than through e-mail which is impersonal and can be read in ways not intended. A great deal of language and intonation is lost via email. Make them give you examples. Come away from the discussion with a clear understanding of what it is your client/group wants. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into the ‘mind readers’ role as it never ends well….for you!

In # 3 of Jeff’s article, we Rezoomers can benefit from giving our clients/mentors our undivided attention both in doing the job and asking for a critique with constructive criticism and examples. Rezoomers need to do what my son Drew does now, be proactive and ask for constructive criticism. Don’t let someone you are providing a service for say, “well its just not what I want”.

Ask them to:

  1. Be specific
  2. Give examples
  3. Recommend things they feel will getting the job done for them more efficiently.

If Rezoomers have learned anything from our prior lives, it is that God helps those who help themselves. If you do not advocate for your self, seek positive and negative feedback, and work on being better at what it is you want to do with the rest of your life you will not become an A#1 Rezoomer.

As I close, Id like to leave you with some wonderful direction I found in an article by John C, Maxwell, called 4 Steps to Handling Criticism – Effective leaders can’t please everyone, but they can make criticism constructive. In the article he outlines four steps to use when you are criticized.

  1. Know yourself-Reality
  2. Change yourself-responsibility
  3. Accept yourself –maturity
  4. Forget yourself – security

In knowing yourself you make it easier for others to approach you and ask for revisions in what you are doing. If you live in the real world you make real world inquiries about what you are doing, and move forward.

As Rezoomers we are in a constant state of change while remaining true to ourselves. What will we do as Rezoomers? Will we go back to what we know or strike off in another direction? Mr. Maxwell quotes Aldous Huxley who said, “The truth that makes you free is for the most part the truth we would prefer not to hear.” Or in other words, my ostrich syndrome. We may like to think we are perfect as we are, but in reality if we are true to ourselves we will ask for input to achieve even greater success.

In accepting yourself, you need to know who you are first. Mr. Maxwell again quotes a wonderful author, Carl Rogers who said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” If we do not know ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses and areas in which we need guidance, we will get stuck. Inquiry is precisely what someone who is rezooming needs to practice to assure they are achieving the level of work they left behind and strive to Rezoom again.

Finally, forgetting yourself and knowing what you want and how you want to achieve it gives you the ability to inquire, change and know yourself. Rezoomers have a corner on the market of forgetting ourselves. We have the security of knowing we have done this before. We have the security of knowing we were good at what we did then, what we did in the interim and what we choose to do now. Criticism is simply the polishing of skills we know we have and will not have us go crying to the showers.

In closing my post this month I’d like to use John Maxwell again to put our journey into perspective. “When it comes to criticism, it’s important to first understand that half of the stuff people say about you is true. So just take inventory, suck it up and change.” “If you know yourself, you will know what you are good at and what you are not.” “If you are able to get to th[e] fourth stage, criticism wont have a negative effect on your life.” As Maxwell says twice in his article, “If you are getting kicked in the rear it is because you are out in front.”

Don’t let anyone take away your opportunity to Rezoom with abandon because they or you are too afraid of giving/receiving criticism. Remember John Maxwell’s 4 Steps and Jeff Rutledge’s 5 Service Lessons. It is up to you, and you alone, how you are perceived and how you proceed forward in your journey.

Grab this opportunity with both hands and leave the ostrich syndrome in Africa.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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