Tag Archives: criticism

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want Me To Tell You

We recently ate at a pleasant Italian restaurant; a day or so later, having been contacted by OpenTable to post a review, I wrote something short and positive.

At least I thought it was positive: 4/5 stars for food/ambiance/value and 5/5 for service, which was terrific. After all, this wasn’t an undiscovered Michelin gem, just a perfectly nice little restaurant with an undistinguished décor and limited menu. I’ve eaten out enough to know what “outstanding” means – from Tour D’Argent in Paris in its heyday to our local pub, which has consistently excellent grub. And, hey, I’ve got the extra pounds to prove it!

Almost immediately, I received a very defensive reply from the chef-owner, wanting to know why I’d given him a “bad” review. (My comments about the “lovely little restaurant with delicious house-made pasta” apparently hadn’t been sufficient praise.) So this led to a series of back-and-forth e-mails in which I explained that one reason for my rating was that the bread was disappointing. As regular readers will know, I take my carbs seriously: flabby, squishy white bread is not ok – though I expressed this as, “I prefer a firmer crust and texture”, attempting to be diplomatic.

The point is, I wasn’t trying to be mean or snarky – but if you ask for feedback, you should expect feedback, not a gold star for trying. (This being the problem of an entire generation getting trophies merely for showing up.)

Which led me to think about other situations in which it might be unwise to ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answers. A classic is, “Where is our relationship going?” Now, if a woman is asking a man, chances are that if he were about to propose, she would know it. If he’s asking her where they stand, well, sorry dude but she’s not that into you, as they say.

I don’t know if gay etiquette is any different, but humans being humans I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, in any relationship, if you don’t know where you stand you can assume it’s on shaky ground.

It’s the same at work. A good manager will praise what’s going well and offer constructive criticism to make you better. Be honest: If you were 100% perfect you’d probably be the CEO, or have retired by age 40 to your yacht in the South Pacific.

In other words, be careful what you ask for.

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