Chapter 22: Before Criticize, Praise
Under President Calvin Coolidge, a friend of mine was invited to the White House for the weekend. When I was about to enter the President’s office, my friend suddenly heard him say to a secretary: “Your dress is so beautiful, you are a very charming girl.”
This unexpected compliment made the secretary blush, embarrassed. Coolidge continued: “I mean it! She deserves that compliment. However, from now on, please be a little more careful about punctuation in documents and letters.”
The President’s manner may seem a bit obvious, but it’s psychologically great. Certainly President Calvin understands that the words most people want to hear are compliments, and when a person has heard praise, they will also easily accept criticism and suggestions.
Below is a famous letter from President Abraham Lincoln to General Joseph Hooker dated April 26, 1863, the darkest period of the Civil War.
Over the course of eighteen months, Lincoln’s generals led the Union army from one catastrophic defeat to another. People panicked, thousands of soldiers deserted. Even Republicans in the Senate wanted Lincoln to resign. Lincoln had to lament in despair: “We are now on the brink of destruction. I feel that even God is against us. I can barely see a glimmer of hope anymore.”
But Lincoln wrote to the person who helped push him into that dark, desperate situation in a gentle, delicate tone. Yet it was perhaps the most scathing letter Lincoln wrote after becoming President.
“I have appointed you Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Potomac. This decision is, of course, based on legitimate grounds. However, you should also know that there are some recent things that I am not completely satisfied with about you.
I believe he is a brave and talented soldier, qualities that I hold dear. I also believe that he did not mix politics with his military career, which is very precious. He had confidence in himself, an important, if not primary, quality.
He is ambitious, which is a very good thing to some extent. But I think that, during General Burnside’s time in charge, it was his ambition that hindered his work, causing great damage to the country and to the most precious comrade.
Recently, I heard you say that both the military and the government need a dictator. It is not because of this, of course, but because, in spite of this, I give you command.
Only those generals who win can become dictators. At this point, military victory is the urgent thing, and the dictatorship I will discuss later. The government will support him to the best of its ability, as it has always done for all generals. But I am afraid that the attitude of criticizing the commander and undermining the confidence in the leadership that he is sowing in the army will work against him. I will help you to some extent to quell this.
Whether he or even the reincarnated Napoleon is difficult to correct an army infected with that attitude. He needs to be wary of his recklessness but must bring all his energy and enthusiasm to move forward, bringing victory to the country.”
In business, how is this principle applied? The case of W. P. Gaw of the Wark Company in Philadelphia shows us a very specific application.
The Wark Company has contracted to build a large office building in Philadelphia. Everything was going smoothly, the work was almost completed when suddenly the brass decoration contractor announced that he could not deliver the product on time. Thus, the contract may be delayed and of course the loss will be huge if the building is not put into operation soon.
The back and forth is very harsh, the tension in long-distance phone exchanges is completely useless! So Mr. Gaw was sent to New York to capture that “coroner”.
Having just greeted the owner of the copper firm, Mr. Gaw cheerfully asked: “Do you know that no one in Brooklyn has the same name as you?”
The boss was surprised: “Oh, no, I didn’t know that.”
Mr. Gaw continued: “When I looked up his address in the Brooklyn phone book, I found that he was the only person with that name.”
The owner of the copper company said while flipping through the phone book in an interesting way: “I don’t know, though.”
Then, his voice filled with pride: “Yes, my name is special. My family is of Dutch origin, and settled in New York nearly two hundred years ago.”
He continued to chat about his family and ancestors for several minutes. When he ended the subject, Gaw turned to praise the company: “I have rarely seen such a large and spacious copper workshop.”
The owner of the company is slightly proud: “I have spent my life building this business, I am also very proud of it. Would you like to take a look around?”
While on tour, Gaw praised his production system and noticed some unusual machines. The owner of the company said that he invented these machines and spent a lot of time explaining how the whole system works. Then he invited Gaw to lunch.
After lunch, the boss of the firm said, “Now, let’s discuss business. Of course, I know why you’re here. But I didn’t expect our meeting to be so interesting. You can safely return to Philadelphia. I promise to deliver on time even if I have to postpone other orders.”
The materials arrived on time and the building was completed within the contract period. What if Mr. Gaw also quarreled, argued as usual? Surely he never achieved his rightful goal.
Dorothy Wrublewski, branch manager of Credit Union Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, recounts how she helped an employee improve his or her performance:
“We recently recruited a cashier with formal training. She handles the job accurately, quickly and interacts with customers in an impeccable manner. But the problem arose at the end of the day, at the closing of the books.
The head of the accounting department came to me and insisted on firing her. She closed the book so slowly that everyone had to stay after work even though he had repeatedly shown her how to do better. The next day, I went to see how she worked, and it didn’t take long to discover why she was having such a hard time.
After closing time, I went to talk to her. I commend her for her friendliness and openness to her clients, and praise her for being precise and quick. Then, I suggested to her to review how she closes her daily cash book. Once she understood she was trusted, she readily followed my suggestions and soon mastered the work.”
Praise before giving advice is like the dentist starting the job with anesthetic. It will save the patient from the pain of tooth extraction. Leaders and managers need to keep this in mind.
The deepest aspiration of every human being is to be praised, respected and cared for.
“Nothing costs less than compliments, thanks and apologies” – Montluc
Rule 22: Begin the conversation with a sincere compliment.