Are You Discerning Enough to Separate the Truth from the Delivery?

Advisers Have Bad Days, Too

“I met with Tom, and he was so mean. It put me off,” my entrepreneur friend said.

I know Tom (not his real name). He meets with entrepreneurs all the time. He is smart and experienced. And he has the patience, empathy, and spirit of a counselor.

Tom is the kind of person that really gets you thinking about what you are doing. He always asks the right questions and then jumps in at the appropriate time to direct the conversation to an actionable conclusion.

Whenever I ask Tom for advice, I always feel more confident in my next step in business and even in life.

Something was different with Tom that day.

He was direct, short-tempered, and downright mean. That’s how the entrepreneur described him. He said, “Tom questioned why I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Why I think my idea is worthy of the light of day. Who was I to think I should start a company?”

To be fair to this entrepreneur, all he told me initially was that his meeting with Tom didn’t go well. I was the one who kept asking questions until he reluctantly shared what happened in the meeting. I pressed not to have a gossipy conversation. I pushed because I couldn’t imagine Tom ever acting that way.

I learned something from this meeting.

When I am in need of advice, I am self-centered. I have worn myself out looking at the problem from multiple angles. I’ve thought it through. I’ve talked to other people about it. I’ve written about it. Now I approach this adviser to share it with them. I want help.

What I don’t do is think about what is going on with the adviser. The meeting is all about me. But sometimes advisers, all advisers, have bad days.

  • They have fights with their spouses.
  • They learn that a close friend is ill.
  • They lose money on a big investment.
  • They may meet with unappreciative entrepreneurs all day.
  • They give and give and are running on empty.

I’m sorry. (I’ve done the same thing.)

I wanted to know what happened between the entrepreneur and Tom because I’ve had these meetings. I always feel terrible after a meeting like this.

But sometimes I can’t help it.

It’s like when I was short with my kids. I knew I should be patient with them, but sometimes I just didn’t have it in me. I was at the end of my rope. I had nothing left to draw on, so I barked at them and got snippy.

To all those I have barked at, have been harsh too, have been mean too, “I’m sorry.”

But is there a message in the meanness?

I advised the entrepreneur to set aside the emotion of the meeting with Tom. I said, “I bet Tom told you something you didn’t want to hear. Maybe he was even a bit insulting.

“You can do one of two things with what he told you. Analyze it for truth and act on it. Or you can write him off as a moody old fool.”

It is your choice.

Just because Tom was having a bad day doesn’t mean he wasn’t right. He just didn’t have the bandwidth to package the message.

Are you wise enough to uncover the truth his bad temper hid?

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2 thoughts on “Are You Discerning Enough to Separate the Truth from the Delivery?

  1. Maybe there was a gift hidden in Tom’s ill-tempered remarks. Maybe there was an invitation to treat him not simply as a vending machine dispensing advice, but as a human being. Maybe the quality of his advice could be a function of the quality of the relationship and its ability to grow over time.

    Isn’t trust a big part of mentorship? And how does trust grow if it’s not pressure-tested? Advice is cheap. Google your favorite guru and there is going to be something that he or she has to say about the issue you face. But relationship adds a 3-D quality to mentorship.

    Come to think about it, all my best mentors have been interested in relationship, then vulnerable in that space, then humble about their humanity and their foibles. And in that, they have given me the greatest gift of all – the realization that I don’t have to be perfect. I can be in process and still love myself. Their weakness was actually a point of great leverage in their mentoring.

  2. You can do one of two things with what he told you. Analyze it for truth and act on it. Or you can write him off as a moody old fool.

    This is great advice. When someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear, it doesn’t mean you need to accept it at it’s face value (especially if delivered less than professionally), but it should never be written off. It always deserves days, weeks, sometimes even years, of thought.

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