Chapter 23: Indirect Criticism
One day Charles Schwab was visiting one
of his factories during his lunch break
and came across several workers smoking
under the “No Smoking” sign.
He walked over to give each of them a cigar:
“Boys, if you’re smoking outside,
I totally approve of smoking.”
These workers knew they were caught breaking the rules,
but they still admired how he gently reminded them
and still kept face for them.
Who wouldn’t appreciate a person like that?
John Wanamaker also uses this method.
He used to take a tour of his big store
in Philadelphia every day.
He once saw a customer waiting at a checkout counter
while the sales staff were laughing
and talking to each other in a far corner.
Wanamaker quietly went behind the counter
and served the customer.
After that, he handed the customer’s item to the shopkeepers
to wrap it up without a word of reprimand,
and then went on to check it out.
Officials are often criticized for being difficult to access.
The problem is that their subordinates
do not want their boss
to be disturbed by too many guests. Carl Langford,
the mayor of Orlando, Florida,
often scolds employees for not allowing strangers to see him.
He advocated an “open door policy” but civilians
who wanted to enter were blocked
by his secretary and manager.
Finally, the mayor found a solution.
He removed the big door from his office!
His staff immediately received the message.
The mayor had a truly “open door” management policy
from that day on.
Many people often begin
with a sincere compliment,
followed by the word
“but” and end with a critical comment.
For example, while looking for ways
to change your child’s academic neglect,
you might say,
“We’re really proud of you,
Johnnie, because you ranked higher this term.
But if you work harder with algebra,
the results will be even better.”
In this case, Johnnie may feel encouraged
until he hears the word “but”.
At that point he might doubt the sincerity of the initial compliment.
To him, the compliment seemed
just a clever preparation to make a critical comment.
So you have lost his trust
and will not achieve your goal.
You can easily fix this
by changing the word “but” to the word “and”.
The reminder would look like this:
“I’m really proud of you, Johnnie,
because you ranked higher this semester.
And if you keep working hard like that,
your algebra score can also improve along
with other subjects next semester.”
Johnnie will accept that compliment
because it doesn’t entail a failure reminder.
The indirect attention of others
to their own shortcomings will be greatly appreciated
by sensitive people,
while they may feel very uncomfortable
in the face of any direct criticism.
Marge Jacob of Woonsocket,
recounted to my class
how she persuaded construction workers
to clean up her yard every day
as they expanded her house as follows:
The first few days,
when Mrs. Jacob came home from work,
she found the yard full of pieces
of wood scattered everywhere.
Because she didn’t want to upset the good builders,
she and her children gathered everything neatly
into a corner after the workers had left.
The next morning,
she called the foreman privately and said,
“I’m very happy
that you keep the beautiful,
clean flowerbed out front
and don’t make the neighbors uncomfortable.”
From then on,
although the house is still under repair,
and children do not need to clean up,
but their yard is always tidy.
On March 8, 1887,
the orator Henry Ward Beecher died.
The following Sunday,
Lyman Abbott was invited to give the eulogy.
He wrote again and again, refining every word.
Then he read it to his wife.
The meaning of the eulogy is actually
as poor as most ordinary eulogy.
If she had acted in the usual way,
the wife would have said:
this is terrible what you write.
This eulogy will put people to sleep.
It’s like an encyclopedia.
He should have known better
after all these years of teaching.
Why don’t you speak naturally like a normal person?
I’m sure you’ll lose your reputation if you read this.”
However, she did not say such vulgar words,
but only commented
that this article would be a great article
for the “North American Journal”.
In other words, she complimented it
and at the same time subtly suggested
that it was inappropriate for a eulogy.
Lyman immediately understood the point,
tore up the article he had carefully prepared,
and uttered his own tribute without resorting
to a single manuscript.
The eulogy that day made many people cry
and is considered his best eulogy.
Humans are naturally proud.
Saying outright that someone is wrong is the biggest mistake.
Rule 23: Comment on the mistakes of others indirectly.