I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yes Ma'am

Before I launch into this post I feel I need to say that I have been hesitating over writing it. I've actually had this topic in the back of my mind for several months, and I've not written about it until now. My hesitation stems from the fact that I know it will potentially hurt and even offend one or more of my nearest and dearest. While I don't really want to do that, at the same time I feel a need to get this off my chest. Bear in mind The Disclaimer, and here goes.

Some months ago I wrote about someone giving me some advice about the business, and about how her advice was annoying me. Anyway she and I had a heart to heart about it, and she commented that I am the kind of person who seems to always need a "yes man" around me, and that unless I had people giving me positive platitudes, I wasn't happy with them. I have spent the last few months doing a bit of soul-searching about this. Do I really take criticism that badly? Do I really only want to hear good news? As someone who likes to think they are always aiming for improvement on personal and professional levels, this was hard to hear. At the same time it's something my MIL and I tend to butt heads about - she feels as though I often bite her head off, and I feel as though she won't let me just be happy about something.

In the intervening weeks I've been trying to look at my behaviour and that of those around me. One thing I noticed is that when DH (or I) tell his family about something good that happens (or might happen), the reaction is often the same. They question him, investigate his motivations behind decisions, and generally start a (well meaning) verbal assault on him. Several times I've listened to this and thought, "Geez! Would it KILL them to just say something nice for once?" Having observed this countless times, I now know that it's just their way. Their concern, their questioning, their playing the Devil's Advocate is their way of saying they love you, care about you and worry about you enough to make sure you're making the right decisions in life. I understand that, and I certainly cannot fault their motivation or their obvious love for DH (and me.)

I still find myself wishing they could just say something nice.

I've often watched DH go from being excited about sharing an announcement, to being rather down about it in the space of a minute or two. A little...deflated, if you will. In the interest of full disclosure, I will also say DH is somewhat famous for making some colossally bad decisions, so his family's desire to help/protect him may come from his history in poor choices. However I don't have that same history, and yet they react the same way when I have an announcement. These days, I hesitate many times over before sharing any news of any kind. I know they will be disappointed to read that - because they love me, and they want to hear my news. And yet...

I still find myself wishing they could just say something nice.

I've also listened to how MY family respond when I say something good. I've discovered that their reactions are completely different to DH's family. My Dad, generally, isn't all that supportive of me or my endeavours- but even HE will (eventually) ruffle my hair and said, "Good work, kid." My siblings and Mom are always offering ideas, suggestions and trying to make contacts for me - and it's normal for me to get a call or email from someone saying my sister sent them to me for a cake. Do they question my decisions? Sure they do. Do they sometimes suggest a different or better path? Absolutely. Their type of support, though, means that they will START with a positive, and THEN ask questions. So if I say, "I got a HUGE cake order today!" they might say, "WOW! That's GREAT! How are you going to handle that on your own? Will you need help? Did you charge them enough?" I'm not saying their way is necessarily better. There were times when I wish they were MORE involved in the decision making, MORE concerned for me. I'm just saying that I've noticed the difference.

So having watched both these families at work, and knowing that the differences are partially cultural, I'm still left with the questions I had before. Culture does play a huge part in this - Australians are far, far more quiet, restrained and reserved than Israelis are. So the differences in approaches are not exactly surprising - but what do those differences mean to ME? Is it really that I can't handle criticism? Is it really that I either want to hear "yay you" or nothing at all? The bigger question might be, what is the ROLE of the family in life? Are they there to be your "yes man" or are they there to always play the Devil's Advocate, potentially protecting you from bad decisions or harm?

I think for me the answer is somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, even though I'm prone to moodiness, I'm a fairly positive person. So it makes perfect sense that I would prefer a more positive approach. Does this preference mean I don't take criticism well? I'm not sure. I think the issue is more one of delivery. Criticism which starts with the positive is almost always better received than criticism 'cold turkey.' I don't think that's exclusive to me personally - I think it's just human nature that we'd rather hear the good AND the bad, not just the bad. I will freely admit that I find cold turkey questioning/discussion to be a negative thing, EVEN if it comes from a place of love and affection. It just carries (for me) a negative energy to it. You don't have to mollycoddle me, or tell me how great I am all the time - just temper your questioning with a bit of a positive comment now and again. Basically, throw me a bone and I'm less likely to bite your leg off. You can still question me, criticise me, and tell it like it is...but really, in the first instance, I just want you to acknowledge my happiness and excitement. I want you to see me bubbling over with happiness...and revel in it with me, even if only for a minute. That's it. I also (since I'm being so demanding and all) need people to realise that sometimes, I tell you things, JUST to tell you things. I don't want or need discussion. I just need to share, and have someone else be excited with and for me.

Now that I have some commenters (and can I just say, YAY YOU commenters) - what do you think about this? Opinions welcome. Is it really that I need a "yes man"...?


Cameron said...

I'm not sure there's such a thing as being 'good at taking criticism'. Generally those of us who feel like we are good at what we do, and take some pride in the way that we do it, and tend to put thought in the best way to go about doing things will feel somewhat defensive in the face of criticism. Seems like it's natural to bristle a little bit, at least on the inside, when you put a lot of yourself into something that someone is criticizing.

One thing I learned at trade shows hocking our products, is that people will frequently critique and make suggestions, and the best thing to say, even if there's a really good reason you didn't do it that way is 'Wow, that's an interesting idea. I'll think about that!'

I think there's a lot to be said about how criticism is delivered. One book I read had suggested the 'Criticism sandwich', where you start with a positive about a person, then deliver the criticism, and then end with another positive about them. Just because someone is a good friend or family doesn't mean that we should be able to say harsh things to them and have it be just okay. Seems like diplomacy is even more important with people you care about or live with.

As for you personally, I think you like to be around people who challenge you, while genuinely liking you and being supportive. That's far from being a 'yes man'.

emzeegee & the hungry three said...


You make several valid points. I was struck by your suggesting the "I'll think about that" comment. It's something I use often when I get *parenting* advice, but not something I use when getting business advice. I should really be using it in both instances, though. Often I find I really WILL think about a suggestion later, even though in the moment I am inclined to dismiss it.

The compliment sandwich is a skill I learned when training to conduct performance reviews. It's a good tactic and again one which I think can easily be used in the personal arena.

...and of course, if WE ran the world, nobody would have anything to criticise anyway! *grin*


the man from u.n.c.l.e. said...

Just wrote a really good, well considered and lengthy comment only to have screen refresh sweep it all away - aaahhhh!!!!!!

back soon to try again - promise.

Poppets mum said...

I can relate to what you are saying. My mother and her parents would/will never tell me when I look good but only comment when I look bad. In fact, the general rule in my family is that if my mother doesn't say anything then you know you look good. She will however brag to all and sundry about how good I look and about all I have accomplished but never tell me to my face. As you say, it is often a cultural thing. I on the other hand made a pact with my eldest sister that we will always praise our children no matter what and try to give constructive comments kind of like the sandwich thing that was mentioned. So, maybe our elders ain't doing it right but we can. As an aside though, you are a thoroughly brilliant person and I can't think of anything to criticise you about!!!!

Alice said...

Michelle, I think you are being too critical of MIL. In your own way you are creating and sending negative energy to MIL. You need to be willing to accept perceived faults in others and forgive them. Alice W

the baker's wife said...

This is a humdinger, emzee. And brave to write about it.

Chefs and egos, it's normal to want to be praised and adored, and to seek to avoid criticism. I don't think that you're so unusual, except that you seem to have more than a few honest people there who will tell you what they think, and the bad stuff first.
I live with a 'doomsay-er' and it's irritating as hell. It makes me pre-empt all the negative possibilities before I do anything, and has honed my ability to put a positive spin on anything. I've seen you do exactly this too.

I can't tell you the answer, or anything deep about what this means. But learning to cope with it is something you are conditioned to do, because you are bright, cheerful, positive outlook you, and they are them. It's the dull old way of the world.

And Alice, I don't agree. What about the negative energy MIL sends out with her critical attitude? I have a hyper-critical MIL myself, whose mere presence makes me quake, because of her fearful, resentful vibe. I forgive her, and even have pity for her since it must be awful to live this way, but it's no zen holiday for me when she's around.

Alice said...

In response to the Baker's Wife - it is important in these difficult domestic situations to ty and go beyond the ego and to rejoice in the “otherness” of the other person. So, even if our ideas or principles clash we can still be in unison with the other person by recognising each other's infinite lovableness, importance and essential unique reality. Alice W

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Hello Alice and TBW,

I really think the solution lies between both your comments. Should I be more accepting of my family's comments, more open to what they are saying? Probably. Should they also meet me halfway by trying to understand MY "importance and essential unique reality" and thus be a bit more positive ? I think so.

This post, for what it's worth, was not specifically about my MIL. I mentioned her because she and I often clash over this issue. We both start our conversations from a position of defence - she because she feels I won't listen to her, me because I can "feel" a criticism coming and I want to deflect it. I don't think that's going to change - for the reasons TBW mentions above - that essentially I am who I am, and she is who she is. I am one who needs comfort, she is one who is inclined to question and not comfort. That's just how it is.

Essentially, while we might accept one another's differences, that doesn't mean we don't spend some time wishing that people behaved differently. I can accept something fully and yet not like it very much. (I accept that butter is not good for me...but I'm not happy about it.)

I thank you both for your insight.