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Sunday, January 9, 2011

LOUD AND CLEAR

My father has been gone for six years now. We worked together for nearly thirty years and in that time, he taught me the ins and outs of the information systems industry and the corporate world. What I particularly miss about him is the arguments we would get into. I don't mean vicious discourse but rather serious debates on a variety of topics. He had a good logical mind and we would often spar if for no other reason than to clarify an idea or concept. My dad was old school though who was of Scottish stock and came up the hard way. If you screwed up, he would let you know about it loud and clear. There was no sugarcoating a mistake with him. Over time I came to learn the reason he jumped down your throat was that he didn't want you to commit the same mistake twice, and to his credit, you wouldn't.

Some people were offended by his candor, others thrived on it as they understood the intellectual dynamics involved. Even customers would call my father to pick a friendly fight with him and, in the process, would learn a lot. I knew of other men of his generation who were also not exactly politically correct and not afraid to give it to you loud and clear. However, I think we now live in a time when such discourse is frowned upon and you don't see too much of it anymore.

People are hesitant to be critical in the work place, school, or just about everywhere. I think this is bred into people at an early age whereby everybody has to be a winner, and nobody should suffer the stigma of being labeled a loser. Consequently we become hesitant to tell someone when he is wrong in that it might hurt his feelings. The only problem here though is if everyone tells you nothing is wrong and that everything is great, you'll never get to the bottom of what is wrong. Every once and awhile you need the naked truth, and you can only get this through honest criticism.

Sugarcoating a problem only delays its resolution thereby costing more money to correct or allowing someone to commit a mistake repetitively. If you give it to them loud and clear, they may not like how you said it, but they will most assuredly comprehend what you meant and will not forget it. One point to make in this regard, when you are criticizing or arguing with someone, simple "yes" and "no's" are not sufficient. It is vital you explain your rationale, otherwise they will remain skeptical and learn nothing.

Perhaps the biggest problem with honest criticism is to learn not to take it personally. The "loud and clear" person is trying to teach you something and obviously thinks it is important for you to learn it properly which is why you are getting it loud and clear. I realize we are supposed to be sensitive to the feelings of others, but we must understand that conducting business does not involve participating in a personality contest. Sometimes, to get the necessary results, a manager needs to get into a worker's face and talk to him heart to heart. We would make little progress if we had to constantly hold the hands of our workers. At some point, the training wheels have to come off and they have to drive the bicycle themselves.

Years ago, when I first volunteered to be a Little League umpire, I had to attend a clinic to learn the duties and responsibilities of the job. At the time I was only signing up to umpire eight year old girls softball which I didn't exactly consider a heavy duty assignment. The instructors of the clinic taught us a lot of things, but one thing they emphasized was to make your calls "loud and clear" regardless of the age of the kids or sex. A watered-down call or one without authority will challenge your credibility not only with the coaches, but with the players as well. Basically, they were saying, "If you're going to do something, do it right." As I was quick to learn, this was perhaps the best advice I could have received. Consequently, I rendered my calls as umpire "loud and clear." Interestingly, I discovered even the youngest kid on the team seemed to instinctively understand what I was doing and respected the call. In all the years I umpired, not once was a tear shed.

For those of you who believe loud and clear is "not cool" in the workplace, you have to remember we live in a fast paced world and managers do not always have the time or luxury to patiently offer tender and sympathetic advice. Honest criticism is a fact of life and a necessity for us to grow and evolve, and we should certainly not be embarrassed to receive it "loud and clear."

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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