Machiavelli had it Right

Machiavelli had it right.

You may have heard the Machiavelli quote before:

“There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making others understand that telling you the truth will not offend you…”

It’s a good quote, and it fits right in with a lot of modern, warm, optimistic management.

But that little ellipses leaves out the risk and outcome of this approach.

The full quote is:

“There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making others understand that telling you the truth will not offend you, but when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you disappears.”

You know how this feels. You have complained to a friend about how everyone feels like they have the right to comment on your job. Everyone tells you what to do even though they have nowhere near the training, expertise, and hours spent on your project.

Let’s take a page from Machiavelli, and update it for today. How do you walk this line skillfully? How do you hear the truth you need to hear, but maintain respect for what you bring to the table? With three principles.

  1. Listen to everyone.
  2. Be clear about boundaries and when people are overstepping.
  3. Do as you please.

1 – Listen to everyone.

In today’s multi-disciplinary world, a critical perspective often comes from unexpected places. Answers to problems cannot always be identified within the perspectives of your own discipline. Further, and speaking from the perspective of customer experience, there is always another emotional context to consider.

People are going to give you their opinion. You can’t effectively shut them down without wasting political capital. And since people have a deep need to be heard, listening to them will often gain favor that you can use.

So listen to everyone, but limit the time and energy you spend on everyone’s opinions. You’ll need the time to…

1.5 – Consider carefully the opinions of a few.

While this idea does not stand on its own, it’s a nuance that the first principle needs to work.

You need to have a few people on any large project or decision whose input you weigh against your own. You need to be open to changing course because of what they offer.

Be certain to get these perspectives from sources that won’t just tell you what you want to hear. Consider a trusted friend who is unafraid to tell the truth, an expert on the subject, an outsider with no stake, an opponent who has different motives.

Whose advice you need to seek depends on the circumstances, but your decisions will be better for the insight you receive.

2 – Be clear about boundaries and when people are overstepping.

This takes tact.

“John, I appreciate your input. There are several factors I am looking at, including the ones you mentioned.”

“Yes, Lisa, I can see why you would say that. Alternatively, I want to make sure we are attending to …, which is why I went this way.”

Here, the use of “I” and “We” is very important. Use “I” when you are establishing your authority in the matter and setting bounds. Use “We” in conjunction to build bridges and remind everyone of shared priorities.

Setting boundaries is never easy. But good boundaries are the difference between realizing your own vision and merely implementing the vision of others.

3 – Do as you please.

You are in your position because you are the expert at it relative to everyone else. Your mandate is to take the risk and make the call. At the end of the day, no one else’s advice matters if you didn’t deliver, so make the decision that you believe will let you accomplish your vision.

Listen, be clear about boundaries, do as you please. You’ll hear the perspectives to sharpen your own insights, and establish yourself as the leader in your role.

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