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Thursday, February 08, 2007


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O what the hell. I'll argue in favor of sugarcoating and selective dishonesty.

One immediate issue: How many people in positions of authority are actually qualified to judge others on issues of quality? Because rank and authority are not necessarily the product of wisdom, insight or admirable traits. If your new culture encourages "honest" assessments by bosses who weren't brought up in that kind of system, you're going to have a lot of talented people listening to a bunch of crap. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the system we've had since forever.

Second: Most places don't have enough qualified people to go around, the pool of qualified applicants is skimpy, and training quality people is expensive and time-consuming. Plus, we've got laws that give us some protection as workers, so we don't have to "try out" for our jobs in the same way that 25 players try out for the 12 positions on a basketball team.

Hence, while we romanticize Vince Lombardi-style "tough-but-fair" leadership, getting things accomplished is much more about trying to meet goals with the people who are available. Some employees want to be better. Some just want to get home in time for Seinfeld. Some are motivated by ambition and pride, others by fear. So I've been brutally honest with some people, and I've totally sugarcoated things for others. And in a sense, the choice was simply utilitarian. You can't fire this whackjob, so how are you going to get something useful out of him?

Finally, honesty is a beautiful thing, but true honesty is intimate. And how many people do you want to get intimate with? I don't want to waste honesty on assholes, or -- for that matter -- anybody who is going to break my groove. Would it be better for them if I were honest and told them they sucked? Maybe. But who cares? Being honest with losers is a complete drag, and I'd rather put my energy into helping the people that matter. If that marginalizes the unfireable hacks who clutter up every office in America, well... so what? They've been making our lives miserable for years.


I've pretty much always agreed. We probably could cut out some of the vicious bite that Simon tends to have, but I really appreciate straight forward talk, even when it is criticizing. We waste so much time and energy dancing around other people's feelings only to end up hurting ourselves because we've never really expressed the problem.

Example: several years ago I was playing a game at one of my gaming conventions. I had a miserable time because of one guy: didn't know the rules, wouldn't stay in character, ignored the other players, stole the spotlight, attempted rediculous things, etc. he wasn't merely oblivious or uninformed: he was rude and inconsiderate. The guy returned for the next game slot.

There are two options here. One was stay, even though I knew it would be excruciatingly painful. The other was leave. Leaving, however, required some sort of explanation, especially since we had already started when the guy returned. I laid out in plain English why I was leaving. I felt bad about it, but when I talked to the others there later, they all said "thank you." They didn't want to deal with him either, but they admitted they didn't have the guts to actually say anything. He had made them miserable.

Some might very well have counted my words as rude. But why should I and four others suffer in silence so as to not hurt the feelings of one idiot?

I am the queen of the clue-by-four, applyable directly to forehead. If you're just saying things to hurt the other person's feelings, that's insulting. But when the honest truth just happens to hurt...why do we have to be so embarrassed to actually say it?


Well... agreed. But what about the times when the issue is a person's relative competence, not a person's behavior? What if the issue was someone who was polite and playing their role as required, but just not with much imagination or enthusiasm?

Janet Edens

Parts of our culture have simply confused equality with sameness. The message that as individuals we all have equal value has been misinterpreted to mean that all our individual qualities have equal value.

I am as valuable as a human being as Daniel, but no one who wanted to win a pick-up basketball game would choose me over him.

There needs to be a migration from the extremes to the middle. So, I think the student's point is valid. Honest, straightfoward criticism has value. But, like individuals themselves, it doesn't have the same value from all people in all situations.


Somehow, I've managed to make it to 43 without ever having heard the phrase "clue-by-four." I LOVE it. thank you, Catherine. My friends will be hearing that one often.


In response to Daniel, issues of competance frequently are also about behavior. Simon Cowell isn't merely attacking bad singers... he's attacking bad singers that think they're great and want the world to know it. They are the people most in need of the clue-by-four. If more subtle tactics were effective on these people, they wouldn't have shown up at the audition to begin with.

And, yes, some people leave crushed. But hopefully these people will move on and find something else fulfilling, instead of wasting away trying to be a pop singer for the rest of their lives when they can't carry a tune in a suitcase. We simply were not all meant to be singers.

If a few more people were honest, even if brutally so, people would stop expecting the world to do nothing but compliment them. I've had many people ask me to read their story or their article or their poetry over the years, yet be completely uninterested in any constructive criticism. They weren't really looking for my opinion. They were looking for praise.

And the reverse of that is that I now have difficulty trusting people's complements because I'm so used to people avoiding criticism. My husband no longer gets to edit any of my writing, because he's just not helpful. All he does is mark a couple spelling errors while failing to mention passages that just don't make sense.

Jean McGreggor

Some times you can be subtle, and some times nothing short of a dead mackeral up side the head will work. Don't we owe it to ourselves and the poor deluded people we are forced to work/play/interact with to at least TRY to let them know when they are putting their foot in it? Especially when they are on the verge of screwing up OUR work ?


The strongest criticism I've ever received was a look of disapproval from someone I respected and admired.

Anything Simon Cowell said to me would be lost in the ether of disrespect and contempt I have for him.

I've had arrogant, ignorant bosses wielding cluex4's at me and I know in my younger days I've had subordinates feel that about me.

That's why I seldom ever wield a cluex4 anymore. Either you respect my opinion and it's not needed, or you don't and it's a waste of my effort (although the stress reduction on my end sometimes makes it tempting).


Thank you for sharing your knowledge of living. I am thankful to the experts like yourself who share their knowledge on how they deal with this. I have learned a lot by reading your posts and you offer me so much hope.

Wyndom Earle

You guys really don't think there's a difference between honesty and verbally bullying someone? Seriously? If the Americans whom Cowell obviously holds in smug contempt can't tell that difference, I suppose they deserve it.

I have not once seen Cowell ever tell someone what he didn't like about their performance. Not once! (Admittedly this show gives me a headache if I watch it for more than a few minutes, and it's not from the bad singing, which hello is to be expected.) Instead he acts like a wannabe verbal dominatrix and tries to destroy easy pitiful targets with insults. (Kinda cowardly like all bullies, really.)

Worse even though he is the last to comment, and has plenty of time to think, his insults are lame. They aren't clever and don't make any sense. He's as witty as a bad game show host. If they do make sense they are obvious or cliches. Like sing in the shower. Or this gem: "Britney Spears would appear to be a mess." Really, I suppose grass is green too.

That's the thing, if you're going to be mean and destroy civility at least be hilarious. Make a great pay off like South Park or Family Guy, which have a satirical brillaince and DO show us uncomfortable truths. (Moreover, why doesn't anyone ever give Cowell a taste of his own medicine? The middle aged man boobs and botox make him an easy target, hello.)

But Cowell who admittedly knows nothing about music and has no talent himself, other than marketing the power rangers, bitches about all the mediocre pop "artists" he culls as if he's creating high art. Please tell me someone's noticing that this show is NOT producing great true unique artists who will change the music world? The winners don't seem to be even having the success of mediocre artists like Britney Spears. Most of the music legends would be laughed off the show for their uniqueness because of this great "critic" and other indispensible "talents" such as Paula Abdul.

Now Cowell is so enabled that he's dissing Bob Dylan. Seriously? And Obama, by making up fictitious invites? (Cowell seems to think that calling himself "intelligent" makes him so.) Are Americans battered wives or something?

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