“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger.” – Franklin P. Jones
Can complaining be productive?
I often find myself asking that question, and so far I haven’t found a final answer other than “sometimes”.
The reason it comes up is because people I work with have this tendency to focus on what’s not working. To be perfectly honest I’d be out of a job if they didn’t.
Highlighting the fact that there’s got to be a better way is a good start to bringing about the change we want to see.
However, just focusing on that aspect alone isn’t that helpful. Nor is slipping into it too often.
The key, as with most things, is to strike a balance between looking at what’s wrong and seeing the opportunity to fix it.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to call people out on it. Often it feels like I’m being an asshole. At times I’ve been called that too.
But it comes from a different place.
When people keep telling me things like: “Nobody cares about what I’m doing”, I can ask them: “Well, why don’t you just kill yourself then?”
This is a really harsh statement, and one that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly.
After the initial shock or “What?!” I probe further. Asking them why they keep doing what they do, why they keep complaining about not getting recognition, what they could do differently, etc.
A question like that can help shift the focus, also it can bring about tears. Again, I do it purposefully, from a loving place. I definitely don’t do it with people who I haven’t developed an understanding and context with.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that treatment myself from time to time. It’s no fun at all. I’ve cried, screamed, and at times even walked out of the room.
Thankfully, I came back. I understood that the person saying these things to me was being honest and encouraging. Yet, at the same time, challenging me.
Despite the temporary pain I got tremendous value out of it. It taught me to respect those who held a view different from my own. Also, it taught me to sit with the pain and letting it flow through the system. It could bubble up, but it didn’t have to dictate my actions.
With companies I’ve played the “devil’s advocate”. While it can be helpful at times, I’ve found that them knowing that I’m playing that role doesn’t affect a change of ideas or culture.
This is because they can blame their uncomfort on me playing that role. Especially since the connotations are that you don’t have to sincerely believe what you are saying when you’re playing devil’s advocate.
Since realizing this I’ve stopped calling myself that, or anything else for that matter.
While I still poke ideas with a stick to see if they hold up, I’m no longer playing a role. I’m simply doing me.
Offering honest criticism, encouragement, advice, harsh lessons, and so on. What I found was that there’s an expression for this.
Being a “Dutch uncle”.
Do you have, or have you had, a person like this in your life? What were some of the lessons you learned?
Were you grateful at the time or did it sink in later?
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