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May 2008: What's In This Issue

    The wimpy boss and the glory of criticism

    Handling the toughest questions effortlessly, a special guest commentary from Ed Leighton

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By Dale Dauten

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”

You can do better.  Yes, you.  You can do better.  And I mean that as a compliment.

I not sure where it started -- if it was the “catch someone doing something right” logic, or the “positive reinforcement” child rearing movement -- but somehow we’ve banished from organizational life the old stick of criticism and instead have instituted as a primary employee benefit the daily free carrot massage.  

One cause is that managers simply don’t have time to manage.  Like teachers who pass incompetent students rather than face the questions and challenges that arise from failing grades, so our corporate mangers hand out smiley face stickers to anyone who bothers to be marginally competent rather than face the arguments and resentments occasioned by honest criticism.  The result is that we’ve replaced leadership with wimpership.  The head wimp tells the assistant wimps that they’re all above average, pass the pizza.

The other half of the wimp equation is, having become unaccustomed to criticism, employees take it poorly.  They see it as an attack, and the instinct is to counterattack, to criticize the criticism and the criticizer. 

What got me thinking about criticism was reading an American Management Association article called “Do You Know How to Give Constructive Feedback?”  The answer was, “Of course you don’t, you idiot.” 

Well, not that, but the author did spend much of the article whining about a single criticism he received years ago.  Here’s the short version:  He was part of a project that involved interviewing employees.  Early on, the project leader praised him for his interviewing technique, giving him what he called “clear, precise positive feedback!”  (Ah, the carrot massage feels so good you start awarding yourself those little miniature carrots -- exclamation points.)

But then, weeks later, the same boss points out to him that in reviewing data for all the interviews, the average length of his was low, and that perhaps he needed to do more follow-up.  He asked for examples where he could have done more.  She couldn’t give him any, saying that her comment was only about the average length data.

This led him to “question her judgment” and to “feel unfairly criticized” and (notice the tidy counterattack) that it “demonstrated ‘fuzzy thinking.’” 

Here is a smart guy who, years after the fact, is still clinging to an offhand remark, still justifying and rationalizing and countercriticizing.  I wasn’t there and don’t know the facts, and don’t want to know them.  Still, I know this:  he did indeed do something wrong -- he missed an opportunity to learn how to work with the project leader.  She gave him the knowledge that the metric of transcript length was important to her.  She didn’t give him a criticism, but a gift.  By telling him how she was evaluating the work of interviewers, she was imparting the secret of being seen as a top performer.

We all need to understand what the best salespeople know, that an objection is simply a directional sign along the road to a sale.  It isn’t the objection that hurts, it’s the silence, the empty agreement and the faux compliment.  Those are the true obstacles to success.

The Greatest Coach Ever, John Wooden, once made the Zen-like observation, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”  Let’s go further and grab hold of this realization:  Honest criticism is a compliment, one that says, I believe in you or I wouldn’t take the time and risk of bothering to tell you.

©2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

J.T. and Dale Talk Jobs

a special guest commentary from Ed Leighton

By Jeannine Tanner O'Donnell and Dale Dauten

DALE:  We get wonderful mail, often with great advice, and we enjoy passing the best of it along.

JT:  What follows is from Ed Leighton of Phoenix, responding to our discussion of someone dealing with job interview anxiety –

ED:  You know how politicians, when confronted with a question they don't want to answer, will say "That's a great question, but what's more important is..."?  Well, that suggests an approach for dealing with the inevitable question "Why did you leave your last job?"  You would respond, as follows:
It was a decision made at XXX level, so I wasn't able to get all the details, but what I can tell you is…

1) What a swell guy my boss was, for example...
2) What terrific challenges/opportunities I had there, for example...
3) What an enormous learning experience that was, for example...
4) What a wonderful team of people it was, for example...

The point is, everyone can think of at least one very positive aspect of their previous employment.  The use of this subject-changing device answers the question and leads the interviewer down a path of the candidates choosing, specifically a success story.  What's not to like?  The interviewer gets an answer to the question that matters, the one at the heart of the inquiry: Does this candidate come with baggage?

DALE:  Nicely done, Ed.  And if any of you would like offer your suggestions, or pass along success stories, please send them via jtanddale.com, or join the discussion in the blog you’ll find there.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of the consulting firm, jtodonnell.com.  Dale Dauten’s latest book is “(GREAT) EMPLOYEES ONLY: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success.”

©2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


Dale Dauten, Author and Publisher

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