Career & Jobs

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Delivered The Best Career Advice You’ll Ever Hear, In Just One Sentence

With the passing of the iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I wanted to share one of her most important nuggets of career advice. And it’s an insight that will apply to everyone, regardless of your career stage.

Four years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an article in the New York Times in which she offered her advice for living. In the article, she says:

“Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

Her line, “it helps to be a little deaf,” might just be the best piece of career advice ever given. And, like so many of her insights, her intuition is firmly supported by research. Being deaf to thoughtless and unkind words is essential to having a successful and fulfilling career.

For example, tens of thousands have taken the online test “How Do You React To Constructive Criticism?” And we’ve learned that, when receiving tough feedback, fewer than a quarter of people are really able to let go of their anger and start moving forward.

But those who can respond effectively to tough feedback (i.e., tuning out the unkind words) are 42% more likely to love their job.

Research has also shown that people who do well at forgiving others (i.e. letting go of their anger and resentment) typically experience fewer negative physical health symptoms, like disorders of the cardiovascular or immune system.

Being able to tune out the thoughtless words you’re guaranteed to hear isn’t just important to keep yourself psychologically healthy. It’s also a necessary ingredient for resilience, one’s ability to bounce back quickly from failure, adversity, stress, etc. If you can keep yourself from perseverating on unkind words hurled in your direction, you’re far more likely to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go right back to what you were doing.

And we need resilience right now. Data from the online Resiliency Test has discovered that fewer than a quarter of people have high resilience right now (you may want to test your own resilience).

In the study Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think, 11,308 employees were surveyed about their engagement at work. And the study revealed that employees’ self-engagement (i.e. their personal outlooks like resilience, optimism, proactivity, etc.) can actually matter more than working for a great manager.

One of the discoveries from the study is that employees with high resilience are 310% more likely to love their jobs than employees with low resilience. And employees with high resilience are 136% more likely to love their jobs than employees with even moderate resilience.

For employees working from home, here too resilience is a major predictor of engagement, happiness, and more. In a new report called The Truth About Working From Home In 24 Shocking Charts, Leadership IQ surveyed 3,706 employees currently working from home to measure their experiences.

We discovered that 52% of people with high resilience found that their work-life balance was much better working from home, and only 23% found that it was much better or a little better working in an office. By contrast, only 33% of people with low resilience found that their work-life balance was much better working from home, and 33% found that it was much better or a little better working in an office.

Whether you want greater success or more happiness, whether you work from home or in an office, everything begins with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s timeless and elegantly simple words, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

Anyone who pursues big or audacious goals (like being the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court) is going to hear some thoughtless or unkind words. To help yourself tune out those words, and implement Ginsburg’s advice, here’s a little trick. Whenever someone hurls some unkind words your way, ask yourself, “What are the facts here?” Set aside the other person’s emotions (e.g., their anger, resentment, accusations, jealousy, etc.) and listen only for whether there are any facts.

Imagine someone says to me, “you’re an idiot for thinking that project would work, you didn’t even calculate an ROI, only a moron would do something that stupid.” There are plenty of unkind words in that diatribe, but there’s also a fact, namely that I didn’t calculate an ROI. So I will take that fact (which is quite useful) and focus on it to the exclusion of the unkind words. By staying factual, we stay calmer, and we’re better to discern the one or two nuggets that are often contained within even the most thoughtless and unkind comments.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg led a remarkable life. And while we might not equal her legendary career heights, we can all apply her advice and be a little deaf to thoughtless and unkind words. As she notes, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

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