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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Be careful and cautious in criticizing

Recently I wrote an internal review of another organization's programs.

I was asked to help them with a presentation, and then also give an evaluation of their participants.

I had to find someone who illustrated the problems in the organization, and so I found that person and wrote some very tough things about the person and the things they were doing wrong. Let's call him Jim.

I was mean. I was brutal. I was honest, but I was perhaps a little more thorough in my critique of Jim than was necessary.

After I had sent my evaluation, but before they had time to read it, I received word from this organization that my presentation was fabulous, and that one of the students in particular was raving about how effective and great the presentation was... and as you can probably guess, that person was Jim.

There's a fine line between tolerating mediocrity in others and being courteous. A proper care and service to another person isn't to let them continue making mistakes. In that sense, my evaluation of Jim was spot on. But there's another tendency in politics, and perhaps in society at large, to treat people as mere cogs in a machine, as though they're disposable. If someone is flawed, we throw him to the curb like a broken television. And that's wrong, that's where I failed Jim.

You should strive to be honest, I try to do so but am often overly blunt in my assessments. I could use a bit more tact, more finesse, more grace in lieu of bluntness. As I say, it's a fine line. But when giving assessments, advice or even just gossiping about others, it's common that it can come back to haunt you.

In a moment of frustration I once said a particular student was 'as dumb as a box of rocks' and, of course, it got back to him. He was understandably hurt by the comment. You can be blunt and direct and forthright, without being mean. It's a grace and talent that I haven't mastered, but I share with you because it's difficult. You should criticize, but as the cliche goes, make it 'constructive criticism' and not just tough.


Politics is a long game, and people have extended memories. You'll be seeing the same faces over and over again, so don't be mean if you don't have to.

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