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Lana Otoya: “Don’t critique, inspire”

Don’t critique, inspire.If a writer gives me a piece of content that I don’t like, I don’t say I don’t like it. I simply ask them; do you think we can make this better? If so, what do you think we could add?This inspires them to get their brain moving to come up with better […]

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Don’t critique, inspire.

If a writer gives me a piece of content that I don’t like, I don’t say I don’t like it. I simply ask them; do you think we can make this better? If so, what do you think we could add?

This inspires them to get their brain moving to come up with better ideas for the article. It doesn’t make them feel bad about the original draft not being good. It makes them inspired to improve on it, which is great for me. I want the article to be better and if the writer is motivated to make it better, the “criticism” has worked.

Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lana Otoya.

Lana is the founder of a dating coaching business called Millennialships.com. Her work has been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Yahoo News, The Toronto Sun and more. Her mission is to help strong successful women meet strong and successful men.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thanks for having me. I’ve been passionate about love and relationships since I was a teenager. While my University friends were out drinking and partying, I was a 19-year-old reading a book about “How Not to Get Divorced”. I realized at a young age that no one really teaches you how to love yet, it’s critical knowledge if you want to live a happy and satisfying life with a partner. Years later I started a dating advice blog not even realizing it could be a business one day. Then I started writing books, coaching, working as a matchmaker and the business grew from there.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe that strong independent women can use their femininity to attract a man. I’ve been surprised to find out that this is actually a very controversial opinion. I consider myself a career-woman, a feminist, but when I tell women they can increase their femininity to attract high-status men, I get push-back. Women and men are equal, and should be in every way — but they are not the same. Understanding this is the key to creating a symbiotic relationship with the opposite sex. My company is about this phenomenon. It’s about teaching women that they can be strong, successful, independent and then also be saved by a man. They don’t need a man, but they can want one.

A story that helps sell this idea involves a client I had who was the owner and founder of a PR firm in Los Angeles. She was extremely successful and proud of her accomplishments. So proud that she made it a point to constantly tell me how successful she was. This arrogant attitude is not attractive, for neither women nor men — it had to go. I remember asking her something that completely changed her attitude, it was simply this: “I know you’re successful and you make a lot of money. Now let’s say I find you a man who has reached the exact same level of success. You and your future man are now even. Besides career success, what else do you bring to the table?”

She couldn’t answer me at first. Her entire identity was wrapped in her career and I had to tell her that she had so many other amazing qualities that she should be proud of. Women often feel immense pride in their professional accomplishments, but they have so many other qualities that they should be proud of and bring to the forefront when trying to attract a man.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In my career, I have spoken to many wealthy people who seem to have everything, but they are lonely. Life is not complete without people to share it with. One of my clients was the son of a billionaire and I asked him what his perfect Saturday would look like if he could spend all the money in the world.

He told me that he’d love to go for a run, have brunch with a girlfriend, hang out at the beach and then come home for a nice dinner with some wine. This humble answer was eye-opening. I think everyone knows that love and connection is more important than money but hearing it from a man who could literally buy anything he wanted really hammered this point home. It also made me so happy to do what I do for a living.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I take my clients through an extensive questionnaire so that I know all about their personality and their goals for a relationship. I have to keep a straight face and not be judgmental of their answers, even if I don’t agree with them. There was one time that I asked a man what his biggest passion was. He told me that there is some kind of banana that is found somewhere in South America and it tastes different than the bananas we have here.

He went on for a good five minutes about how he really wanted to try this banana and what he would do if he ever found it. As much as I tried to hold it, I cracked and started laughing. I said: “This is your answer to your life’s biggest passion?” And he said, “Yeah, are you judging me?” My hands started sweating because I felt bad for laughing and thought he was going to be upset with me, but all I could do was say: “Well…that’s kind of funny.”

Luckily, he started laughing as well. The lesson to be learned here is that everyone is so unique and different and it’s kind of amazing. When I’m coaching people or when they go on dates, it’s all about realizing how weird everyone is and how that’s really okay.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

The biggest thing a leader can do is to watch for hints of burnout and then check-in by offering help. I think most leaders and CEOs, especially the caring ones, think that employees will feel comfortable telling them if they are stressed or overworked but that’s just not the case.

Nobody wants to be seen as weak or like they can’t finish their work. It’s for this reason that even checking in with an employee and asking them if they are overworked isn’t always the most effective. Good employees will often lie and say that they are fine with the workload because they want to be seen as strong, and worthy of a promotion or a raise.

Knowing this, it’s important for leaders to watch for clues and then offer help. Signs of burnout include: asking for extensions to deadlines, missed meetings or details falling through the cracks. If an employee who is usually on top of everything suddenly stops being on-top of everything, it’s worth checking-in.

Then when you check-in, give the employee an out. Say something like “hey, it seems like you have a lot on your plate, is there a project that you want some help with?” This is a much better approach than asking if they are overworked or overwhelmed.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is about being the person you want everyone to be.

How many times have you had a parent or authority figure tell you to do something when you know they don’t do it themselves? Their words completely fall flat. They have no substance.

In my business, I wrote hundreds of blog posts and 10 e-books before I ever asked anyone to write something for me. I built an entire website before I ever asked anyone to help me with it. I was in a long-term committed relationship with a man I met on Tinder before I ever coached anyone on dating. When you know the inside and out of what you’re asking someone to do for you, your words have much more substance and power.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

When I worked in regular office jobs, I was stressed all the time. I was so afraid of failing. I wanted to impress others so badly that I would get crazy anxiety worrying that things might go wrong.

As a young business owner, I was forced to fail hundreds of times, at nearly everything I tried. Experiencing so much failure has allowed me to continue in my work with much less stress.

I know this sounds negative, but when I have to make a big decision or present at a big meeting, I remind myself of how many times I’ve failed. I tell myself: “I’ve failed at nearly everything I’ve tried, and it always turns out ok. If I fail at this, I’ll be fine.” It’s this weird euphoria of confidence that you get when you realize that failure doesn’t really matter to you anymore.

When you’re in that position, you can take bigger risks, make bolder decisions and really push yourself farther than you ever thought you could go. Being a success is literally about being ok with being a total failure. It’s contradictory, but it works.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

My job is about giving feedback to people in very sensitive areas of their lives, one is writing and the other is love and dating. Even non-fiction writing is a creative process and writers can be sensitive about the work they are producing for you, especially if it has involved a lot of research. I know this because I have written extensively throughout my career and it can be mentally exhausting to get a completed product out of your soul and onto the page. Since I am so familiar with the writing process, I can help my writers with constructive criticism that makes their work better without hurting their passion or drive.

Giving feedback on dating is even more vulnerable. Researcher Brene Brown has talked about how painful rejection is. Humans have evolved to seek acceptance from others, this is one of the reasons we exist. When you criticize someone, you are essentially rejecting a little piece of them, and this power should not be taken lightly.

My clients deal with rejection from the outside world every day. If they make a dating mistake, it’s difficult for me to be another person adding rejection or criticism to their life. It is here where I have learned that if you want to give feedback successfully, what you say is not as important as how you say it.

How you say something can raise a person up to their full potential, or completely destroy their ability to go on another date. Or write another article. At the end of the day, people just want to be accepted by others and when you’re in a position to either reject or accept someone, you should try your best to accept them and criticize them very carefully.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

When you’re the owner of a business or a coach that is paid to help someone out, you are driving the bus. You are the one that needs to get it from A to B. You’re the one dictating the route, and everyone else needs to either get on board or get on another bus.

Employees that I’ve hired or clients that I am coaching must agree to follow my vision. So, with feedback it’s less about me being “right” and them being “wrong” and more about them being on my bus, and I get the final say on which way we’re taking the bus. If I feel that what you’re doing is taking me off my route, I will give you direct and honest feedback for how we can get back on track. If I don’t give you that clear and direct path, we’ll both end up lost.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

My method for giving honest feedback that doesn’t come across as too harsh is to use the Tony Robbins method.

If Tony Robbins was giving you honest feedback, or even criticism, would you be insulted? Likely not. You’d probably feel the opposite, you’d feel inspired and motivated to do better. My 5 ways of giving feedback all revolve around using Tony Robbin’s way of giving feedback.

1. Don’t critique, inspire.

If a writer gives me a piece of content that I don’t like, I don’t say I don’t like it. I simply ask them; do you think we can make this better? If so, what do you think we could add?

This inspires them to get their brain moving to come up with better ideas for the article. It doesn’t make them feel bad about the original draft not being good. It makes them inspired to improve on it, which is great for me. I want the article to be better and if the writer is motivated to make it better, the “criticism” has worked.

2. Compliment bad work

Complimenting bad work seems counter-productive, but it really works. There is always something good about bad work, it’s your job as a leader to find what is good and point that out first. Sometimes I’ll say something like “I love how out of the box this is, I think it’s a really interesting direction.” Then follow up with how they can guide it to something you want more. Saying something like “how do you think we can get this to be a little more in line with what we usually do, but still keep the creativity?”

3. Lead by example

When Tony Robbins is speaking, you know that he actively practices all his own advice. You know that he is personally motivated, a positive thinker, a goal setter etc. I try to be that person in my own business. My team knows that I am organized, strive to make the best content and go out of my way to help my clients. I put in the time and effort that it takes to make everything just a little bit better. When I give constructive criticism to my team or my clients, they know that I am expecting these things of them, but that I expect these things from myself as well.

The best leaders, the ones that gain the most respect are the ones that can lead while being in the trenches with the others. When you act like you’re above everyone else, criticism is met with hostility. I choose to be an inspiration to my team and my clients so that they want to be like me and they are happy to take my advice.

4. An Utmost Enthusiasm

Have you ever seen Tony Robbin’s clap? Or smile? He goes BIG. When I’m talking to my team or my clients, I try to bring an energy that inspires enthusiasm and positivity.

I have so many female clients that will text a man when they know they are not supposed to. They will send a follow-up text to a man that ignored them for weeks. Whenever I hear this. I say: “Why would a smart and confident woman like you need to follow up with a man who ignores you??” I say it in almost a joking tone. At that moment, they know that I am “disappointed” in them because they made a mistake, but I’m not mad. I understand why they did it and they can almost facepalm with a smile and say “ooops, you’re right!! I won’t do it again.”

5. I Want You To Succeed

The final thing that Tony Robbins has inspired me to do is always route for the person you are criticizing. When Tony Robbins gives you feedback, you know it’s because he wants you to be the best person you can be. When your employees and your clients know that you have their best interest at heart, they are more willing to hear what you have to say.

One way I do this is by complementing very specific and unique aspects of their personality. I don’t just say to them “I know you’re ambitious and want to be the best writer ever”. Instead, I’ll comment on a specific truth about their personality. Like: “If you want to write for the relationship column of Cosmo, how can we write a piece that proves to them you want to be there?”

This advice is customized to their dreams and goals so they are more likely going to want to follow it. It’s not because I want a better article, it’s because they want to be in a better place as a writer.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

It is important to take an extra few extra seconds to explain the reason for your feedback. When you give an explanation, it’s a lot easier for employees not to take things personally.

While it’s faster to say “cut this entire last paragraph out.” Leaving it at that makes the reader assume that the work was bad. Even if it was, it’s a lot nicer to say “I like the intent behind this paragraph, but I’m not liking how it flows, let’s remove it.”

You don’t even need to complement it if you don’t want to. Simply explaining why you don’t like something is also helpful. Such as: “I don’t think this paragraph is detailed enough for us to include it, let’s remove it.”

If someone knows why you are making a decision, they are much more likely to be on board with it.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

If there is an incident that happened, like a serious mistake, it’s important to assess whether or not the person even needs feedback. I always remember this story about Pixar and Toy Story 2. I am not even sure if it’s a true story, but it talked about how an employee accidentally programmed the computers to start deleting files. Months of animation work was quickly being deleted off the computers and would need to be re-done.

Although Pixar managers were tempted to find out who made this mistake and punish them, no one ever did. All the attention was focused on fixing the error and moving forward. Praise was given to employees who discovered solutions to the problem.

People thrive on positivity. If something really bad has happened, the person likely knows what went wrong and that it can’t happen again. There’s not much to be said about that. Not much feedback to be given when someone has clearly messed up.

If feedback really does need to be given, I don’t think there is a set time that it needs to occur. As long as you’re being friendly and not rude about it, feedback can be given at any time.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

All my favorite bosses were people I wanted to be like, they are an inspiration.

I go out of my way to try and inspire my team and my clients with my actions, not my words. I think that being the best at what I do helps them see that they can be the best at what they’re doing as well.

I also try not to take things too seriously. This goes back into my feelings about not being worried about failure. I once had a Google algorithm update slice my site traffic down to nearly zero. Years of progress were wiped away overnight and 6 months later I recovered it all back, and more.

This “I can fix it” attitude helps me take my employees’ mistakes or lackluster work all in stride. People make mistakes, they do mediocre work, but it’s going to be ok. I’ll find a way to get it fixed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I dream about love being taught in schools. Teenagers should learn about conflict resolution, emotional abuse, using “I” statements, the 5 love languages etc. The future of the human race literally depends on this.

When children grow up in loving and trusting homes, they are much more likely to be loving and caring people themselves. Most people don’t want to intentionally hurt their significant others, but they do it by accident because they’ve been taught unhealthy methods of communication from their parents.

If kids could learn how to love from a place other than their parents, I think the world would be a much more loving place to live.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

This quote to me is so powerful. When we look at the world and all its problems, we often feel too overwhelmed to even attempt to try and change anything. This quote reminds us that a small voice of reason is often louder than the noise.

This quote also inspires me to be a creator and not a consumer. As a kid, I would go to school and want to be the teacher. I would watch a magic show and want to be a magician. I don’t like watching things, I like doing things.

I like to think that I am helping create healthier relationships in the world and it makes me immensely proud to be doing what I do.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Everything about me can be found on my website: https://millennialships.com

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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