Imagine you’re sitting in a meeting, and a thought suddenly pops into your head. It’s a smart insight, and you’re tempted to interrupt things in order to interject. You look around the table, wondering when you might get the chance to jump into the discussion.
Or maybe you’re sitting at your desk, and an email from your supervisor arrives, asking for your input on an important project. You quickly type out a response filled with ideas and observations and prepare to hit send.
Or maybe you’re sitting at dinner all alone, scrolling through social media. You notice a news story that stirs a sarcastic thought and you quickly type out a post on the subject and begin thinking of how you’ll respond to the people who reply.
Before you jump in, press send, or share your post, take just a moment and ask yourself this question:
Do I want accountability or approval?
That may sound like a strange question, but when it comes to sharing ideas with the world, it’s one worth asking. With everyone’s voice amplified by the ease and speed of communication, one of the biggest (and sneakiest) traps we can fall into is the urge to share whatever we think. After all, it’s what everyone is doing.
But as every parent knows, just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t make it right.
Good ideas are worth sharing—in fact, we need people to share their good ideas. But not every “good” idea is equal. If that were the case, Twitter and Facebook would be a lot different. The biggest difference between a “good” idea and a genuinely good idea is motive.
If you’re a leader, you need to ask yourself this question every time you prepare to share an idea, and you should teach your team to ask it as well: Why do you want to share this idea?
If you want to share it in order to make things better, start a helpful conversation, contribute a solution, or address a need, then you’re sharing for accountability’s sake. That is, you’re giving your idea to the room or the world with the expectation that people will evaluate it and find it useful. It’s a way for you to add value to others.
If you want to share your idea in order to get a like, stir the pot, start a fight, or increase your profile, then you’re sharing for approval’s sake. You’re putting your idea out only because you want people to respond to it in the way you want them to respond. You don’t want to add value—you want to extract it in the form of your preferred response.
Whatever the context, take a moment to ask yourself, “Do I want accountability, or do I want approval?” before you launch your idea into the world. It could be the difference between an interaction that’s productive and an interaction that goes off the rails.