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Am I Being Respectful and Constructive?

3 February 2017

Herb WayeHerb Waye, ICANN Ombudsman

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Anybody who has volunteered to coach an amateur or school team knows what it is like to have the crowd scream insults or profanity at them. The attack comes across without fail as a personal attack; one of bullying and intimidation of the volunteer coach. The fact the coach is devoting skills and valuable personal time to the organization is clearly not something the spectator considers.

ICANN thrives on volunteerism. Without the devotion and sacrifice of the people who support ICANN, and their participation (often as volunteers) in the multistakeholder model and bottom-up policy development, ICANN would simply not survive. Some participants move on to accept leadership challenges, a choice motivated by the commitment and activism that keeps ICANN alive. They choose to become the "coach" of the team. They have demonstrated the skills and knowledge to lead, and usually through elections, are offered the opportunity.

Remember the volunteer coach?

This phenomenon raises a very interesting and debatable question: Should leadership have a thicker skin? Well, to a certain point, in my opinion, yes. The volunteer/participant is now in a position of authority and is expected to have the competencies to handle critique, dissent, aggressive questioning of decisions, and many other challenges to their leadership. But should they be forced to tolerate and mitigate abusive criticism? Negativity? Counterproductive, irritating or frivolous comments? I think we can all agree the answer is no.

Let's take a moment to think about constructive criticism.

Constructive Criticism: Criticism or advice that is useful and intended to help or improve something, often with an offer of possible solutions (dictionary.com). So how does one give or promote constructive criticism? I think the answer is in the definition: "… useful… intended to help… with an offer of possible solutions."

I am not asking people to go easy on leadership. Hold them accountable for their decisions. Demand transparency. Enforce application of policy. They understand the leadership role they have taken on and they expect you to hold them to their duty.

So, before criticizing their actions or decisions, I would ask you to consider this: make them feel you want to be part of a solution rather than merely an opponent. Change their perception of your criticism so that rather than becoming defensive they become receptive and welcome your input.

But above all, and this is not negotiable, treat them with respect. By offering constructive criticism rather than simply criticizing, you are treating the leadership with respect. You are legitimately challenging them and at the same time demonstrating an interest in opening a conversation with them about improvement or change. Comments should focus on the problem not the people. They have been elected to lead, undermining that leadership with mere criticism is destructive. Everybody's goal should be the success of the team, the group, the community and ultimately ICANN's service to the world.

So, before you hit send, or before you speak, I would like you to ask yourself a very simple question: Is my message respectful and constructive?

Live the ICANN Expected Standards of Behavior that asks you to "Respect all members of the ICANN community equally, behave in a professional manner and demonstrate appropriate behavior."

Herb Waye
Herb Waye
ICANN Ombudsman

Herb Waye

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