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Why Pouting is a Bad Strategy

Normally when I think about pouting, I think of a little kid with his or her bottom lip curled down. Having been told “no” when they wanted to hear “yes,” you almost expect some sort of negative reaction ranging from mild disappointment to pouting to an uncontrollable tantrum. I seldom had to deal with pouting and tantrums as a parent…my kids were pretty good about hearing “no.”

My experience with pouting more often occurred in professional settings, particularly after someone had a rough performance review, was given bad news, was told “no” when they wanted to hear “yes,” or got word about a decision with which they did not agree.

I’ll admit that I have done my fair share of pouting, particularly early in my career. Normally, I was frustrated that a proposal I put forward didn’t get green lit. I mean, here I was trying to help make the company succeed and I’m just being told “no”! Fine! I guess I just won’t help at all then!

That’s a bit of a dramatization, but if your experience is like mine, you’ve probably seen a similar dynamic at some point. The initial reaction of disappointment is understandable. Hearing “no,” being critiqued, or otherwise losing something you wanted is hard…feeling disappointment, frustration, or sadness is normal. Pouting is one way of expressing and processing those feelings. It’s just not a particularly mature way.

Why is it, as adult women and men, that we have the urge to pout? What is it about how we view ourselves and our role in an organization that leaves pouting on the table as an option? I think pouting often stems from a mix of appropriate emotions and inaccurate assessments of our own talents and contributions.

When we are told “no” or given a critique we don’t feel we deserve, we may have a tendency to pout because we disagree with what has been said and refuse to think more deeply about ourselves or the situation. When we think we have nothing else to learn or that we deserve a bigger position or more responsibility, it is hard to hear from others that we don’t. It’s a shot to our self-perception (if not our self-esteem).

Hearing that we have room to improve or that others are going to get opportunities we feel we should have gotten prompts us to think about our past contributions…how much we’ve given to the company (and how little others have in comparison). We look at how much less we think others actually contribute and begin to feel that our efforts are hopeless. We feel slighted. In reality, it is highly likely that we simply don’t estimate rightly the contributions of others (it’s called availability bias…we see 100% of what we do and only observe what others do a small portion of the time). When we pout, we don’t seek out a broader perspective…we wallow in our own perceptions that feed our disappointment and sense of injustice.

Pouting is a reinforcing, self-centered activity. By that I mean that pouting closes our personal ecosystem allowing us to wallow in whatever story we tell about the world that makes us great, worthy, and right and those who told us “no” shortsighted, incompetent, and wrong. Pouting only reinforces our own self-perception…it doesn’t challenge it.

Opening up our personal ecosystem to perspectives that are not our own can be difficult. It won’t come without feelings of insecurity, confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Being open doesn’t mean we allow others to determine who we are, nor does it mean that we give in and give up at every turn. Instead, it means that we recognize that without others, our view of ourselves and the world will be incomplete. Not every “no” or critique we hear in life will be beneficial…but none will be if we close ourselves off to them. 

By fighting through rather than giving in to the anger and disappointment we may feel in certain situations, we give ourselves the opportunity to more rightly understand ourselves and the situation we are in. “No’s” and critiques may mean that we don’t fit where we are and help us decide to move on. They may point to some behaviors or way of thinking we need to change to grow professionally and personally. Pouting is the enemy of growth and insight, so the next time you are tempted to take your ball and go home…see what happens if you remain open to the perspectives of others instead of pouting.

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