Down with the Eye Rollers

by Rita Nguyen

Anyone who’s done a start up knows that you’re going to get a lot of doubters and haters in your early concepting stage.  For those who are going to go through with the leap, you’ve got to grow a thick skin and brush off the negativity and just keep going.  I’ve certainly been meeting my share of the Eye Rollers in recent months.  On one hand, they do provide some valid points but oftentimes I’m finding that the perceived value I’m getting from them is not close to offsetting how damaging their negativity is to my psyche.

I was recently pulling myself out of a funk of a this-isn’t-going-to-work conversation when I came to the realization that this particular Eye Roller was very similar to the worse boss I have ever had.  The Dictator was a classic low self esteem, going to push everyone down and take all the credit type.  You know the one – Vietnam is FULL of them.  Anytime I presented an idea to her, she would pooh-pooh everything and tell me exactly why it wouldn’t work while rolling her eyes at me, at which point in time I would shuffle out of her office with my head down in embarrassment.  BTW, this was REALLY early in my career.  After a while, I noticed that many of the projects we were getting “from the top” resembled my ideas but with just a little bit of refinement.  Ah, the corporate rat race, how I do not miss thee.

Fast forward a decade or so and here I am.  Refining a product idea I want to spin into a start up and I’ve got another Eye Roller in my life.  Luckily I’m not the same young girl that the Dictator pushed around.  Still, the basic principle remains the same: she listens with barely contained derision, interrupts constantly with comments like “yeah, I’ve heard all this before” and ends with a lot of “you’re wasting your time” type comments.  While (Thank God) I’m not her employee, the Eye Roller is someone who I was trusting to give me constructive feedback and help me to flesh out a few nuances of my product. Instead, I got total demoralization and pretty much nothing I could construe as useful…lots of broad “things” I should look into but that she could barely understand.  I wasted half a day chasing down a lose end and when I went back to ask her to give me more clarification, I got a blank look and a response along the lines of “oh I heard it from someone somewhere”.  Grrrr.

Ten years ago I dealt with the Dictator by eventually quitting my job but there’s no way that the Eye Roller is going to get me to give up.  Thank God, I’ve got really smart people in my life who are not only enormously encouraging but willing to place money against my idea because, dammit, it’s a GREAT one.

Managers, take a moment to think of the last time you didn’t agree with an idea from an employee.  How did you handle it? Were you constructive and respectful, even if you thought the idea was bat-shit crazy?  Because here’s the thing, the most important thing really isn’t what you think of the idea, it’s how you handle the feedback.