After I so thoroughly and lovingly complimented myself last week, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that I just perhaps – very slightly – might have a few shortcomings.
How I React To Criticism:
Although I recognize that I have a few faults – I do not want ANYONE to actually point out ANY OF THEM.
I am crazy-defensive (or just plain crazy). I am full of faults in my own mind, but I’d better be perfect in yours. (Right, Hubby?)
It’s not that I won’t eventually – at some much later date – in a moment of quiet reflection – consider the possibility that I might have a tiny bit of room for improvement. And maybe, also eventually, take some correction action.
But in the moment – and for many many moments afterwards – I feel just shitloads of anger, denial, and hurt.
Sometimes I can stay that way for a very long time. Years ago I had a boss scream at me in a big meeting: “WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!” And even if I had been wrong, wrong, wrong (which I was not, by the way), that approach to criticism will never get to the quiet reflection stage.
Although I will admit that even the gentlest of constructive criticism (“You might want to consider this little idea the next time you have a project like this…”) is not exactly welcome either.
Mostly I think every human being is as thin-skinned as I am.
But not quite everyone.
Twenty years ago, I witnessed such an accepting and undefensive reaction to criticism, it has stuck with me all these years. It’s a standard of openness that I will never achieve. But still a worthy goal.
It was 1994 (and I am sure because I worked in the television industry, and had a TV in my office, and I remember watching Jackie Kennedy’s funeral). My boss at the time was a super-smart rather grumpy guy who I really liked. He tended to shoot the breeze for a good portion of the day, and then work in tremendous bursts of energy just before a deadline. This style suited me perfectly.
(Not to mention that he liked the same toppings on his pizza as I did.)
We both reported to and were at the mercy of the WRONG WRONG WRONG boss. She was also super-smart, but major stressed out, and the type of manager who got angry before she got facts. She had an advanced degree in Jumping To Conclusions. In a high-pressure job in a male-dominated industry (to try to be fair) she was an ethical and committed executive who was apoplectic more often than encouraging. She’d turn purple to the roots of her hair. If I walked into her office and the part in her hair was still purple from the last meeting, I usually excused myself and re-scheduled.
This particular day in 1994, it was my boss, Eric, on the receiving end of the fury.
I can’t even remember the topic. But Eric got his ass handed to him – with a new asshole torn in that which was handed to him – for something not even remotely his fault. In front of me.
Eventually we were released and crawled back to our own offices. But not for long. I immediately went to Eric’s office in my own furious reaction.
“That was so unfair!” I yelled. “You didn’t deserve that! And she had no right to humiliate you in front of me!”
But Eric shook his head.
“It’s okay,” he said calmly.
“No, it’s not!” You didn’t deserve that!” I reiterated.
“Maybe not this time,'” he said. “But plenty of times, I do.”
And that was it. He got back to work. And sent me back to my office to vent my outrage that he didn’t share.
It was a wondrous thing.
I’ve always hoped that I someday I would display that level of maturity as an example to my own subordinates. Since I am now about one year from retirement, I don’t hold much hope for it.