“That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard Private” – My Drill Sergeant’s reaction to how I planned an “attack” during basic training.
I thought that line stuck with me because the guy was an asshole, but boy was I wrong. If you’re in any type of military, paramilitary or law enforcement organization you’ve had to deal with instructors whose sole purpose is to completely break you down. Once they reach that point they can build you back up according to the standard. Maybe you’ve also heard the term “constructive criticism”. The quote above is a perfect example of “constructive criticism”. My Drill Sergeant wasn’t harassing or berating me, but was letting me know that my plan was flawed in a way that would stick with me. It hit my square in the jaw and made me raise my standards. It was brutal, up-front and in my face honesty. It was basic human communication at its best.
Just so we’re on the same page for the rest of this post, I’m going to bust out the dictionary real quick.
Communication – the imparting or exchanging of information or news
Information – facts provided or learned about something or someone
Fact – a thing that is indisputably the case
OK, with that quick English lesson behind us, how often do you tell your client/student/co-worker/child “good job” or “wow, that’s the best drawing/TPS report/power point slide/single-leg-bosu-ball-bicep-quarter-curl I’ve ever seen!”?
How often do you truly, 100% mean it?
If you say that you always mean it I’m going have to go ahead and call shenanigans on you, because you know that it is total bullshit. All the praise you dish out for the sake of motivation and boosting someone else’s self-esteem is superficial at best, and not doing as much good as you probably think. I’m all for giving praise where praise has been earned, but doing it just to spare someone’s feelings is “the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
The “Self-Esteem Movement of the 1980s”, as stated by this article in The Star Tribune, has done a disservice to the kids growing up in that time period. Being born in 1985 I was probably just entering kindergarten when this “movement” was in full swing. Looking back on it, I’m pretty damn sure that my teachers from kindergarten until at least 3rd grade praised average work and basic human decency by my classmates and I. What benefit does praising average work and expected behavior do for that kid or the entire generation that was involved?
None. It does nothing that is of benefit to them. It hurts them more than anything, or in the words of Charlie Kelly it “S’s them in the A, without a C, then J’s all over their B’s.“
You don’t land a job running a company by doing average work. You don’t make the Olympics by assembling an average team. You don’t get drafted in the first round when you have an average season. You don’t win a war with an average military.
You accomplish these things by busting your ass, knowing where you need to improve and focusing on the task at hand.
Radical and brutal honesty is the key. This article in Esquire features an interview with Brad Blanton who makes some very good points about being brutally honest. In his “movement” to make radical honesty the norm he’s confident that people will be able to communicate much more effectively. Instead of little white lies about how your wife/girlfriend doesn’t look fat in those pants, let her know she does and nip the problem in the ass before it starts. I don’t know about you but I’d rather cause a stir by being honest before she starts trading her mini-skirts for muumuus.
Will you come off as an asshole? Yeah, of course you will. Nobody wants to hear what people are afraid to tell them. But here is the way I see it… most of those who will see you as an asshole were the ones who were told they would be the next DaVinci because they colored the fire truck blue and managed to somewhat stay within the lines. Let them sit in their dream world thinking their average work is nothing short of amazing. At the same time you’ll be brutally honest, the people you surround yourself with will return the favor and you’ll blow past them with something that is truly amazing and deserving of recognition.