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Developing a Thick Skin
You know the childhood chant by heart: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If only it were true. The fact is that words often hurt more than we like to admit.
Most of us bruise too easily. We take offense anytime we get criticized. We sidestep rejection at all costs. We live in a cocoon of self-protection, avoiding any information inconsistent with how we see ourselves or that would make us better. As a result of our “thin skin,” we don’t benefit from the many learnings life wants to teach us. It’s safer that way.
The best leaders fend off the need to protect their fragile egos. They work hard to develop a “thick skin” instead. Having a thick skin allows you to hear criticism without becoming upset, offended, or disturbed by it. A thick skin gives leaders the ability to roll with changes and accept the challenges and criticisms others offer.
Thick-skinned leaders welcome feedback and criticism and often seek it out. They make more progress because they are less concerned with their own emotions and more focused on becoming better. This doesn’t happen by accident.
We all get plenty of practice at being judged and criticized by others. It happens almost as often as swallowing. The best leaders also practice accepting the discomfort by turning every criticism or rejection into a suggestion. Like all suggestions, we have the choice to follow some and disregard others. To fully develop a thick skin, every evaluative comment must be reworked as a suggestion or recommendation. This gives leaders the power to decide on what to consider and what to ignore.
When we listen for it, the world and those in it offer us a treasure trove of suggestions and recommendations for our approval. Hearing criticisms as much-needed suggestions for improvement helps us develop a thick skin while allowing us to discern what is wise and what is wasteful. Becoming better depends on these suggestions. It’s time to ask for more.