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.