December 14, 2010

We Hear Only What We Want To Hear

There was a member of my family who had a reputation for not really talking much to his colleagues or to the people working for him about their work except to criticize them.  Apparently, the phrase, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," was not a phrase he knew while in the office.  This member of my family was a big guy. He was tall, brilliant, articulate, and the kind of guy who probably wore a tie when he played golf (definitely when he slept).  It wasn't hard to picture this imposing figure pointing out an error one of his colleagues or employees may have made.

The description of this character trait stuck with me.  Over the years I made it a point to praise my colleagues, employees, and my children, whenever I could. It would not be unusual for me to bring flowers in to an assistant with a note telling her she was appreciated for all her hard work.  It wouldn't be unheard of for me to send one of my children some workout clothes or a fancy mouse for their computer, just because I was proud of them.

So, why am I writing about this now?  I'm writing about this now because I've recently come to believe this family member was right, and my efforts to act as his opposite (regarding this one habit) was for naught.  When I think back, it occurs to me that in spite of my efforts, the only thing people remember is the occasions when I did point out an error or criticize.  I've also found people have the tendency to only hear what they want to hear when you are having a conversation with them.  Many people seem to only focus on the negative. Maybe even create a negative where there was none.  I could give a hundred accolades and one criticism, and it's the criticism that gets tossed in my face.  Human nature?  Kind of frustrating.  I'm not really sure what can be done about it.

Nobody likes to be criticized, but in the real world, criticism happens.  No one is perfect.  We are all going to be criticized from time to time.  How else can we improve and grow as human beings?  We should be thicker-skinned, but that is not the case.  We hear what we want to hear.  We are offended by the smallest of criticisms, which we tend to exaggerate and turn into an Academy Award winning drama.  "You don't seem to have put forth your best effort," is met with a response like "I can't ever do anything right."  It's hard to believe the only solution is to walk on eggshells, thinking carefully before we speak.  Must we avoid the absolute truth when possible and sugarcoat everything.  Is that what's best for the person on the receiving end, or is the result a bunch of people who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions and it's frustrating.

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TheBAFSignal by Bradley A. Friedman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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