Pisani explores the constructs of criticism
There’s nothing more terrifying than “constructive criticism.” Not an IRS audit. Not a stolen Visa card. Not a flat tire on I-95. And not that first notice that says you’re eligible to join AARP.
I can still remember the time my mother gave me a good tongue lashing about my bad habits and said, “You need to learn to take CONSTRUCTIVE criticism!” She could have gotten a job in the Human Resources Department of Ebenezer Scrooge LLC.
Who invented “constructive criticism” anyway? Warren Buffett? Donald Trump? The New York Times editorial board? Bill Gates?
I’ve observed that people who do all the constructive criticizing generally go into a full-blown meltdown when the tables are turned. Quite simply, THEY never learned to take constructive criticism.
Over the years, my enlightened bosses at the steel drum factory, the construction company and my first newspaper would occasionally pull me aside for a good dose of constructive criticism.
They usually delivered their criticism in front of my coworkers with the zeal of fans at Yankee Stadium calling out the umpire: “Hey, you nitwit! You’re doing it all wrong! Don’t you know that blah blah blah blah...”
In response to these public performance evaluations, I’d fling something at them, curse and walk off the job. (I never intended to hurt anyone. Honest.)
In my saner moments, I’d respond, “Boss, thank you for taking the time to share this valuable advice with me! I sincerely desire to improve my performance, and your power of example will be my guiding light.”
Actually, I was thinking, “You lazy, no good, lowlife slug! You sit in your office and do nothing all day. You play solitaire on your computer, surf the Web, go on Facebook, call your girlfriend and then take credit for my ideas!”
At night, my beloved wife would ask, “How was your day, Sweetheart?” To which I’d respond, “ I had a terrific day, Snookums. The boss gave me some inspirational constructive criticism and told me how to be a more productive employee.”
Years later, I became a manager, and they sent me to management charm school to learn the tricks of the trade. Organizational development gurus convinced me that employees crave positive reinforcement, even more than a raise — and if they could choose between a 15 percent raise or some specious, unctuous praise, they’d beg for the praise every time. Today, I rank fake praise right up there with fake news and fake science.
I guess I never gave good positive reinforcement because my staff always wanted the raise, even if it was a measly 3 percent. (All that will change once the socialists take over.)
Here are a few simple rules for those of you who want to deliver constructive criticism to your staff, your children, your spouse, your elected officials and your household pets.
First, it is EXTREMELY important to tell the person you are criticizing they should NOT take your constructive criticism personally ... even though it’s about them. For example, you might say, “Jerrold, do not take what I am about to say personally ... but you are a lazy slacker who isn’t carrying your weight in this department. Now, don’t you feel better?”
Second, you must deliver your message in a pleasant manner. Try this approach: “Hey, big guy, guess what! I’m cutting your pay 20 percent. How about those Mets!”
Third, use what Corporate America calls “the feedback sandwich,” which consists of three parts. Praise ... You need to improve ... Even more phony praise. First, you praise the person, then you slip in the criticism when they aren’t listening, and finally you heap even more praise on them so they think they’re going to get a big promotion. This is the way we do it in America. In Russia, they don’t use constructive criticism — they just ship you off to Siberia.
I’ve gotten so good at this that I even give constructive criticism to the dog, who never listens, and to my grandchildren, who just keep up the bad behavior because they aren’t due for a raise.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.