Who’s in your kitchen cabinet?

Who do you rely on to tell you the truth? Perhaps you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before - or doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

Who would give you honest feedback that’s truly meant to help you?

Candor and Caring: The Golden Girls' Kitchen Cabinet

Honesty or encouragement?

This week, I was struggling with something I’m trying to do, uncertain whether I’m going in the right direction or if I should even be going at all.

Although I get a lot of feedback from people that’s useful and encouraging, some feedback is particularly difficult to give. This week I needed brutal honesty more than encouragement, and that can jeopardize many relationships.

I thought about it and made appointments with two people.

My kitchen cabinet

These calls were about more than constructive feedback on an idea. They were also about what’s good for me as a person. If what I was trying to do wasn’t right (for me or for other people), I needed someone who had the courage to tell me that. Sorry, John, you’ve got it wrong this time.

My friend referred to these kinds of people as your “kitchen cabinet,” a phrase I hadn’t come across in a long time. She heard it in an interview between Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey. At 6m:18s in this video, Brené asked Oprah how she stays open to feedback:

Oprah: “I’ve had a kitchen cabinet since the beginning of my career. Different people have been in that kitchen cabinet over the years…a few people who I know are going to tell me the truth, even the hard truths.”

Brené: “I’ve got a cabinet for sure. They will tell me what I don’t want to hear but need to hear. And will love me through it.”

That combination is key: candor and caring.

It can feel awful to hear that my idea won’t work or isn’t well thought-out, or have someone point out I’m doing things that are inconsistent or inauthentic. It can feel like an an attack on my capability and on me as a person.

But I need to hear it, and there are five or six people in my kitchen cabinet who I rely on for different topics in my life. When I know they have my interests in mind, then I stop defending myself, I listen, and I have a chance to grow.

Who - and what - are in your cabinet?

Keith Ferrazzi wrote about these relationships in Who’s Got Your Back? The Secret to Finding the 3 People Who Will Change Your Life:

“So whether you’re running a country, a business, or a household, you can’t know everything you need to know to be successful - no one can. We need the advice and feedback of people we trust..It’s the reason presidents create ‘kitchen cabinets’.”

The people in your cabinet are often different from those you consider friends. While some might know you and your family intimately, others may have a particular expertise that’s relevant to your goals. Some may be especially wise and compassionate because of their own life experiences. They’re the kinds of people that, though you may not speak often, when you do it’s about important topics that require hard truths.

Look for those people and nurture your relationships with them. Offer them your vulnerability, and the candor and caring you receive can change your career and life.

How to not suck at receiving feedback

Self-worth in a dishwasherI usually suck at receiving feedback. Even a constructive suggestion from my wife about loading the dishwasher feels like a personal attack, as if my very self-worth is tied to whether the dishes should face in or out. Yet in writing Working Out Loud, dozens of people are giving me feedback and I like it. Somehow I’ve learned to be grateful for the criticisms of my wife, my friends, and people I’ve only met via this blog. As a result, the book is already much, much better.

Three things helped me, and whether your goal is cleaner dishes or a better life, I hope they can help you too.

Frame the goal as a learning goal

Several years ago, Keith Ferrazzi first introduced me to the idea of framing things as learning goals. If I wanted to be a better public speaker, for example, he taught me not to ask “How was I?”after a talk but “What’s one thing I could do better?” That empowered the other person to give me constructive help instead of just simple encouragement.

Seth Godin wrote that “Applause is great. We all need more of it. But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback.” Besides, I’d much rather learn about weaknesses in the book now than read about them in Amazon reviews after I’ve published it.

Here’s some feedback that made me wince at first but made the book better. Sometimes, the reviewer is describing a section or my editorial style:

“you started to lose me”

“It felt that there were a lot of commas!”

“the exercise becomes a bit cheesy to me”

“intro wordy and a bit ‘la di da’”

Then there were more general comments:

“The one aspect I didn't really enjoy”

“While I was reading it, I didn’t get much sense of the overall reason for the content”

“Well, you asked me to be blunt...”

But the most negative comments were on the graphics I used. In the 82 pages draft, there were only two graphics and they were both universally hated.

“Surely, it’s just a placeholder”

“The pentagon of 5 elements...needs improvement because it is not interesting-looking or memorable”

Appreciate it as a gift

All of these particular comments were useful. The visuals did stink. I did use too many commas. The confusing parts were confusing.

But Ferrazzi also taught me that I didn’t have to take on every bit of feedback. After all, of the 25 pages of comments I received, there were sometimes conflicting suggestions or points I simply didn’t agree with.

Feedback is a gift. You accept it graciously and if it isn’t right for you after due consideration, you put it aside. Viewing it this way also helped me to take the criticism and myself less seriously. In The Art of Possibility, the conductor Ben Zander reinforced this when he described reacting to mistakes not with irritation but with “How fascinating!”

Choosing amateurish graphics doesn’t make me a bad author or even a bad selector of graphics. It just highlights an opportunity to improve in yet another area. “How fascinating!”

Accentuate the positive

It seems we’re all wired to look out for threats and overlook the good things. In a page full of positive comments, I’d immediately focus on the one criticism.

Being mindful of that tendency, I would purposefully read the positive feedback again and again. Besides bolstering my confidence, it helped me put the negative comments in perspective.

“I love this book.”

“I love the way you write.”

“LOVE LOVE LOVE a home run”

“The stories of people thru out, embedded in the chapters, are great.”

“Like your blogs, this draft is captivating and I didn't want to put it aside.”

“Eff YEAH!  So, so, SO exciting seeing it all come together REALLY REALLY REALLY awesome”

“I also selfishly wonder if there is a version for 11 - 13 years old which I can use with my daughter. I am serious!”

The results

A friend of mine is an author and when he heard how much feedback I was getting he mused to himself “What would you do with all of that?”

I thought “What would I have done without all of it?!” My early drafts were pathetic, like high school book reports full of quotes to show the teacher how much research I’ve done. Without the generosity of the reviewers, I may never have gotten beyond that stage.

In addition to making the book better, asking for and getting feedback has done something else, something surprising and even more important. It’s transformed the solitary experience of writing into a global communion, full of good feelings and intellectual exchanges. The book doesn’t feel like mine alone any more but like the collaboration of a small tribe. Now I'm about to send out another draft to another round of reviewers and I'm asking for other help: marketing, graphics, self-publishing, copyediting. I’m not good at any of these things but with the help and generosity of others, I can get better.

When it comes to getting feedback about something you care about, Seth Godin summed it up nicely just two days ago:

“Good advice is priceless. Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Not imaginary, but practical. Not based on fear, but on possibility. Not designed to make you feel better, designed to make you better.

Seek it out and embrace the true friends that care enough to risk sharing it.”

How to not suck at receiving feedback

Self-worth in a dishwasherI usually suck at receiving feedback. Even a constructive suggestion from my wife about loading the dishwasher feels like a personal attack, as if my very self-worth is tied to whether the dishes should face in or out. Yet in writing Working Out Loud, dozens of people are giving me feedback and I like it. Somehow I’ve learned to be grateful for the criticisms of my wife, my friends, and people I’ve only met via this blog. As a result, the book is already much, much better.

Three things helped me, and whether your goal is cleaner dishes or a better life, I hope they can help you too.

Frame the goal as a learning goal

Several years ago, Keith Ferrazzi first introduced me to the idea of framing things as learning goals. If I wanted to be a better public speaker, for example, he taught me not to ask “How was I?”after a talk but “What’s one thing I could do better?” That empowered the other person to give me constructive help instead of just simple encouragement.

Seth Godin wrote that “Applause is great. We all need more of it. But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback.” Besides, I’d much rather learn about weaknesses in the book now than read about them in Amazon reviews after I’ve published it.

Here’s some feedback that made me wince at first but made the book better. Sometimes, the reviewer is describing a section or my editorial style:

“you started to lose me”

“It felt that there were a lot of commas!”

“the exercise becomes a bit cheesy to me”

“intro wordy and a bit ‘la di da’”

Then there were more general comments:

“The one aspect I didn't really enjoy”

“While I was reading it, I didn’t get much sense of the overall reason for the content”

“Well, you asked me to be blunt...”

But the most negative comments were on the graphics I used. In the 82 pages draft, there were only two graphics and they were both universally hated.

“Surely, it’s just a placeholder”

“The pentagon of 5 elements...needs improvement because it is not interesting-looking or memorable”

Appreciate it as a gift

All of these particular comments were useful. The visuals did stink. I did use too many commas. The confusing parts were confusing.

But Ferrazzi also taught me that I didn’t have to take on every bit of feedback. After all, of the 25 pages of comments I received, there were sometimes conflicting suggestions or points I simply didn’t agree with.

Feedback is a gift. You accept it graciously and if it isn’t right for you after due consideration, you put it aside. Viewing it this way also helped me to take the criticism and myself less seriously. In The Art of Possibility, the conductor Ben Zander reinforced this when he described reacting to mistakes not with irritation but with “How fascinating!”

Choosing amateurish graphics doesn’t make me a bad author or even a bad selector of graphics. It just highlights an opportunity to improve in yet another area. “How fascinating!”

Accentuate the positive

It seems we’re all wired to look out for threats and overlook the good things. In a page full of positive comments, I’d immediately focus on the one criticism.

Being mindful of that tendency, I would purposefully read the positive feedback again and again. Besides bolstering my confidence, it helped me put the negative comments in perspective.

“I love this book.”

“I love the way you write.”

“LOVE LOVE LOVE a home run”

“The stories of people thru out, embedded in the chapters, are great.”

“Like your blogs, this draft is captivating and I didn't want to put it aside.”

“Eff YEAH!  So, so, SO exciting seeing it all come together REALLY REALLY REALLY awesome”

“I also selfishly wonder if there is a version for 11 - 13 years old which I can use with my daughter. I am serious!”

The results

A friend of mine is an author and when he heard how much feedback I was getting he mused to himself “What would you do with all of that?”

I thought “What would I have done without all of it?!” My early drafts were pathetic, like high school book reports full of quotes to show the teacher how much research I’ve done. Without the generosity of the reviewers, I may never have gotten beyond that stage.

In addition to making the book better, asking for and getting feedback has done something else, something surprising and even more important. It’s transformed the solitary experience of writing into a global communion, full of good feelings and intellectual exchanges. The book doesn’t feel like mine alone any more but like the collaboration of a small tribe. Now I'm about to send out another draft to another round of reviewers and I'm asking for other help: marketing, graphics, self-publishing, copyediting. I’m not good at any of these things but with the help and generosity of others, I can get better.

When it comes to getting feedback about something you care about, Seth Godin summed it up nicely just two days ago:

“Good advice is priceless. Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Not imaginary, but practical. Not based on fear, but on possibility. Not designed to make you feel better, designed to make you better.

Seek it out and embrace the true friends that care enough to risk sharing it.”

A letter from my future self

  Lincoln's adviceIf you’ve ever wondered where you’re heading, or what your work and life is leading up to (if anything), then I have an exercise that might help you.

This week, I suggested this exercise when several people I’m coaching were struggling a bit with their purpose. That reminded me I had done something similar for myself more than 4 years ago, and when I read it again this week I was surprised at what I found.

A vision of your future

In Coach Yourself, Anthony Grant and Jane Greene advise that to help decide what’s important to you and what to focus on, a good method is to write yourself a letter from the future. (Other variations including creating “vision boards” made up of pictures from magazines.)

Simply choose a date a some months or years ahead. Then imagine what happened during that time if your life had gone well and how you’d feel if you were successful and fulfilled. The real examples in the book showed there’s no one right way to write such a letter. The common theme was simply people writing earnestly about what they were doing and feeling at some future point.

“For it to be real, for it to be useful, you need to engage your emotions. It seems that there is something quite special about writing it down that allows you to reaching into your deepest self.”

My own vision

In, 2009, I took part in a Keith Ferrazzi “Relationship Masters Academy” that’s now an online offering. When we began, he had us write up our dreams and goals, a short summary of our long-term vision, and three specific results that would tell us if we’d accomplished our goal. He also had us describe how we would feel if we didn’t pursue our goal and if we did.

It was a variation of a letter to my future self. And I remember, when I wrote it, that I was nervous. How odd to be nervous simply writing something about myself that no one else would see! I also remember, once I let go of my anxiety and let myself write, that I could taste the future.

Here are my answers, unedited, from four years ago.

My Dreams/Goals

“To live in different countries for months at a time - Japan, France, Spain, Italy...(to name the top 4)

I would like to write (publicly - beyond my weekly work blog, which was at least a start) and to connect with an audience.

I’d like to create! Books but also software and other projects. Things that people would use and love.

I’d like to do something genuinely helpful, particularly when it comes to education for kids who may not normally have access to it. (I benefitted from going to a free scholarship high school which changed my life.)

Oh, and financial independence... :-) Actually, I don’t mind the idea of having to work to earn a living. But the dream is more to be able to research/write/speak/ present about ideas and connect with people. Perhaps ideal “jobs” are those of a Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky or Seth Godin...or Keith Ferrazzi :-) ”

Articulating my vision

“I will become a champion of ideas. Who will write, speak and connect. Within 10 years. (But taking steps NOW!)”

How will I know?

“I will have authored a book or other notable content that > 20,000 people read. I will have been paid to speak. I can earn a living from writing, speaking and (only some) consulting.”

How will it feel if I don’t try and if I do?

“If I don’t pursue my mission now, I will continue to live my status quo and.... My sense of being special will fade. My frustration at not doing “more” will increase. My (constant) fear of having to earn enough for the next 20+ years will remain. My entire life will be colored by the 2 statements above.”

“If I do pursue my vision now, I will be increasingly happy and... My sense of peace and inner calm will be much, much greater. My energy and enthusiasm will be much higher - every day. My family will be happy because I’ll be “present” and happy.”

What will your letter look like?

I hadn’t looked at this exercise since I wrote it four years ago. What surprised me is how much of it still feels right or is coming true. Either I’m a fantastic forecaster or, much more likely, the act of envisioning the future and writing it down shaped my thoughts and my actions.

What about you? What would your letter look like? Not your bio or about page or whatever else you might write to impress someone else. Write to your future self for yourself. Maybe share it with one close friend who can support you.

Destiny isn’t something that awaits you. It’s something you create.

A letter from my future self

  Lincoln's adviceIf you’ve ever wondered where you’re heading, or what your work and life is leading up to (if anything), then I have an exercise that might help you.

This week, I suggested this exercise when several people I’m coaching were struggling a bit with their purpose. That reminded me I had done something similar for myself more than 4 years ago, and when I read it again this week I was surprised at what I found.

A vision of your future

In Coach Yourself, Anthony Grant and Jane Greene advise that to help decide what’s important to you and what to focus on, a good method is to write yourself a letter from the future. (Other variations including creating “vision boards” made up of pictures from magazines.)

Simply choose a date a some months or years ahead. Then imagine what happened during that time if your life had gone well and how you’d feel if you were successful and fulfilled. The real examples in the book showed there’s no one right way to write such a letter. The common theme was simply people writing earnestly about what they were doing and feeling at some future point.

“For it to be real, for it to be useful, you need to engage your emotions. It seems that there is something quite special about writing it down that allows you to reaching into your deepest self.”

My own vision

In, 2009, I took part in a Keith Ferrazzi “Relationship Masters Academy” that’s now an online offering. When we began, he had us write up our dreams and goals, a short summary of our long-term vision, and three specific results that would tell us if we’d accomplished our goal. He also had us describe how we would feel if we didn’t pursue our goal and if we did.

It was a variation of a letter to my future self. And I remember, when I wrote it, that I was nervous. How odd to be nervous simply writing something about myself that no one else would see! I also remember, once I let go of my anxiety and let myself write, that I could taste the future.

Here are my answers, unedited, from four years ago.

My Dreams/Goals

“To live in different countries for months at a time - Japan, France, Spain, Italy...(to name the top 4)

I would like to write (publicly - beyond my weekly work blog, which was at least a start) and to connect with an audience.

I’d like to create! Books but also software and other projects. Things that people would use and love.

I’d like to do something genuinely helpful, particularly when it comes to education for kids who may not normally have access to it. (I benefitted from going to a free scholarship high school which changed my life.)

Oh, and financial independence... :-) Actually, I don’t mind the idea of having to work to earn a living. But the dream is more to be able to research/write/speak/ present about ideas and connect with people. Perhaps ideal “jobs” are those of a Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky or Seth Godin...or Keith Ferrazzi :-) ”

Articulating my vision

“I will become a champion of ideas. Who will write, speak and connect. Within 10 years. (But taking steps NOW!)”

How will I know?

“I will have authored a book or other notable content that > 20,000 people read. I will have been paid to speak. I can earn a living from writing, speaking and (only some) consulting.”

How will it feel if I don’t try and if I do?

“If I don’t pursue my mission now, I will continue to live my status quo and.... My sense of being special will fade. My frustration at not doing “more” will increase. My (constant) fear of having to earn enough for the next 20+ years will remain. My entire life will be colored by the 2 statements above.”

“If I do pursue my vision now, I will be increasingly happy and... My sense of peace and inner calm will be much, much greater. My energy and enthusiasm will be much higher - every day. My family will be happy because I’ll be “present” and happy.”

What will your letter look like?

I hadn’t looked at this exercise since I wrote it four years ago. What surprised me is how much of it still feels right or is coming true. Either I’m a fantastic forecaster or, much more likely, the act of envisioning the future and writing it down shaped my thoughts and my actions.

What about you? What would your letter look like? Not your bio or about page or whatever else you might write to impress someone else. Write to your future self for yourself. Maybe share it with one close friend who can support you.

Destiny isn’t something that awaits you. It’s something you create.

A different kind of corporate networking event

Old-fashioned networking

There we were, over 100 of us, gathered at a networking event. And it struck me that people have been holding these kinds of events, in the same format, for perhaps 50 or even 100 years. 

Groups of 10 sat at large round tables and listened to a panel talk about their networking experiences. Then the people at each table introduced themselves and discussed a few questions. Some people handed out business cards before they left.

True, we did meet some people and we did talk about networking. But we didn’t actually change how people develop relationships or make any meaningful connections.

 “There has got to be a better way,” I thought.

“How did you get your current job?”

One of the questions we discussed was “How did you get your current job?” And the answers underscored how most people take a scattershot approach to networking and really do play career roulette.

A recent finance graduate, for example, happened to attend our company’s event on campus and wound up in an arcane business area. Another person’s company was acquired and so now she had a new boss at a new firm. My favorite was an experienced person whose prior business was shut down. He got his current job after bumping into an old acquaintance at a bar. 

Old Acquaintance: “What are you up to?”  

Experienced Person: “I’m looking for something new.”

Old Acquaintance: “Oh, I think a friend of mine is hiring at his firm. Are you interested?”

Experienced Person (to the table): “So I sent him a note, and here I am.”

Everyone agreed that building a network is important and they all wanted to do something about it. But what?

The same themes, over and over and over

As people described their experiences with networking, the common theme seemed to be frustration:

“I don’t have any time.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I know I should follow up but I don’t.” 

Ironically, the event just increased their frustration. It further reinforced what they already knew ("I should be networking more!") without providing them with a better way of doing it. After the event, everyone would still struggle with time, technique, and a lack of a system or new habits.

That motivated me to make some simple adjustments to the next event I’d participate in.

5 ways to make networking events better

The best networking experiences I’ve ever been a part of are dinners hosted by Keith Ferrazzi. Aside from the food and drink, the venue and the small tables designed to promote better interactions, he also gets people to know and care about each other. And he does that by sharing personal information and asking probing questions. At one of his dinners, you can do more than meet people. You can make friends for life.

What if our corporate networking events were more like that? Even if you can't control the food, the venue, or the tables, here are 5 simple things you can do to make networking events better.

  1. Prepare rich profiles: Prepare in-depth profiles of everyone in the room, including links to their LinkedIn pages or other public profiles. 
  2. Ask humanizing questions: In the profile, include questions such as “What are you passionate about?” and “What’s your superpower?” to avoid people simply providing their corporate title and work history. Provide a real example of an interesting profile.
  3. Allow time to explore: Share the profiles ahead of time so everyone can look for people they’d like to meet at the event. Make sure they can access the profiles during the event, too, and give them time to browse.
  4. Offer helpful nudges: At least one person should be a designated match-maker, making introductions based on things they’ve noticed from carefully reviewing all of the profiles. (“You two were both in the Peace Corps! You should definitely know each other.”
  5. Build in a little structure: Help people with follow-ups by structuring specific actions into the event. It could be “Make 3 new LinkedIn connections during the event”. (Or, better yet, use your company’s social platform if you have one.) Or “Schedule a lunch & 2 coffees before the night is over.” 

Next time, instead of having everyone just talk about networking, make sure they can actually practice it.

What do you think? What made your great networking experiences great? What would you do to make your next event better?

A different kind of corporate networking event

Old-fashioned networking There we were, over 100 of us, gathered at a networking event. And it struck me that people have been holding these kinds of events, in the same format, for perhaps 50 or even 100 years.

Groups of 10 sat at large round tables and listened to a panel talk about their networking experiences. Then the people at each table introduced themselves and discussed a few questions. Some people handed out business cards before they left.

True, we did meet some people and we did talk about networking. But we didn’t actually change how people develop relationships or make any meaningful connections.

 “There has got to be a better way,” I thought.

“How did you get your current job?”

One of the questions we discussed was “How did you get your current job?” And the answers underscored how most people take a scattershot approach to networking and really do play career roulette.

A recent finance graduate, for example, happened to attend our company’s event on campus and wound up in an arcane business area. Another person’s company was acquired and so now she had a new boss at a new firm. My favorite was an experienced person whose prior business was shut down. He got his current job after bumping into an old acquaintance at a bar.

Old Acquaintance: “What are you up to?”  

Experienced Person: “I’m looking for something new.”

Old Acquaintance: “Oh, I think a friend of mine is hiring at his firm. Are you interested?”

Experienced Person (to the table): “So I sent him a note, and here I am.”

Everyone agreed that building a network is important and they all wanted to do something about it. But what?

The same themes, over and over and over

As people described their experiences with networking, the common theme seemed to be frustration:

“I don’t have any time.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I know I should follow up but I don’t.” 

Ironically, the event just increased their frustration. It further reinforced what they already knew ("I should be networking more!") without providing them with a better way of doing it. After the event, everyone would still struggle with time, technique, and a lack of a system or new habits.

That motivated me to make some simple adjustments to the next event I’d participate in.

5 ways to make networking events better

The best networking experiences I’ve ever been a part of are dinners hosted by Keith Ferrazzi. Aside from the food and drink, the venue and the small tables designed to promote better interactions, he also gets people to know and care about each other. And he does that by sharing personal information and asking probing questions. At one of his dinners, you can do more than meet people. You can make friends for life.

What if our corporate networking events were more like that? Even if you can't control the food, the venue, or the tables, here are 5 simple things you can do to make networking events better.

  1. Prepare rich profiles: Prepare in-depth profiles of everyone in the room, including links to their LinkedIn pages or other public profiles.
  2. Ask humanizing questions: In the profile, include questions such as “What are you passionate about?” and “What’s your superpower?” to avoid people simply providing their corporate title and work history. Provide a real example of an interesting profile.
  3. Allow time to explore: Share the profiles ahead of time so everyone can look for people they’d like to meet at the event. Make sure they can access the profiles during the event, too, and give them time to browse.
  4. Offer helpful nudges: At least one person should be a designated match-maker, making introductions based on things they’ve noticed from carefully reviewing all of the profiles. (“You two were both in the Peace Corps! You should definitely know each other.”)
  5. Build in a little structure: Help people with follow-ups by structuring specific actions into the event. It could be “Make 3 new LinkedIn connections during the event”. (Or, better yet, use your company’s social platform if you have one.) Or “Schedule a lunch & 2 coffees before the night is over.”

Next time, instead of having everyone just talk about networking, make sure they can actually practice it.

What do you think? What made your great networking experiences great? What would you do to make your next event better?