The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment. - Elbert Hubbard
Fairness is not an attitude. It's a professional skill that must be developed and exercised. - Brit Hume
After a busy day today, I settled down in a new restaurant for one of my favorite dishes – rack of lamb.
The staff was friendly and professional, the location was beautiful, the ambience of the new restaurant was impressive ….
…. the meal was late enough that the wait staff brought out a complementary salad as an apology (which I insisted wasn’t necessary but I appreciated the effort) ….
…. and then the lamb arrived, probably the worst I have ever had.
My request for medium-rare rack of lamb resulted in the most overdone, dry lamb I have ever experienced.
The accompanying truffle mashed potatoes were actually less than two tablespoons. I saved them for last and then scraped them together for a photo.
My business partner had ordered wild salmon but instead of a beautiful medium-rare masterpiece, it was also overcooked to a dry semblance of its former self and heavily seasoned with salt.
What does one do when this happens?
What would you do?
I called the waitress over and explained that I had requested medium-rare but received something far more cooked than well-done and that the potatoes were almost invisible.
She was clearly nervous, wondering where I was going next.
I then explained to her that I wanted her to do absolutely nothing about it and that I was grateful for the meal.
I think that she was clearly uncertain of my approach and offered profuse apologies and intentions to do anything she could to make it right but I politely interrupted her and explained my reasoning.
First of all, I explained, while I could complain about the quality of my food, there were in fact people not far from where we sat who had absolutely nothing to eat. They would have given anything for the problem before me.
Secondly, I added, the reason I was explaining the need to improve their offering wasn’t so that she could fix it now but so that correcting this result in the future might protect her and her colleagues from an abusive person who might forget their blessings and hurl words (or food) in the direction of the staff as they expressed disappointment. This was a new restaurant getting the kinks out of its system and needed some support and understanding from customers.
She was extremely appreciative of my words but I’m not convinced that she thought I was authentic.
When the manager came over to ask how the meal was, I explained my concerns once again as well as concerns over the condition of my partner’s salmon.
Once again, my concern was responded to with what I feel was genuine concern and offers to correct the situation and I explained to the manager what I had said to the waitress.
When he understood that I was being authentic and not trying to throw him off in one of those passive-aggressive, “I’m telling you I’m fine but in fact I’m just trying to stop you from fixing the problem so I can continue to be an unhappy victim” moments, our conversation turned towards gratitude for journeys explored in our careers, gratitude for the place where we both found our paths crossing today and gratitude for access to things that many people couldn’t even dream of.
He was grateful for how I had reacted to a meal that didn’t meet either of our standards and I was grateful for the genuine concern expressed regarding my situation and the manner with which he accepted my criticism.
And from that mutual understanding and a sense of gratitude that was shared by both of us, I actually enjoyed a meal that many people may have thrown out.
What would you have done?
The Bottom Line
I once mused about a day when a group of women drove up to a local Starbucks in their $80,000 cars, walked inside in their high-end outfits, ordered $5 lattes and then spent over an hour complaining about how their lives were miserable, their husbands were worthless and how anyone in the world must surely be happier than they were at that moment.
Their criticism was designed to mindlessly complain or to hurt others without solving their alleged suffering and without accepting any responsibility in their respective situations, a pointless waste of time that weakened themselves individually and collectively. While talking with their husbands would have been more useful in solving what these women thought ailed them, their complaining to someone else demonstrated that they preferred to focus on being a victim rather than on solving a problem.
Indeed – I can still feel the pain and suffering they endured.
People who constantly hurt others or make mistakes despite repeated efforts to help them, guide them or correct them deserve criticism (constructive when possible) at a minimum and sharper actions where warranted.
But when genuinely nice people learning something new make significant mistakes, it is important that we put ourselves in their shoes before being quick with the tongue or the keyboard, the latter being where social media easily becomes the place where we look for accomplices to our complaints instead of looking for a solution to our problems.
Too often we forget that we too were novices once, in a specific skill-set, in a specific location, in a specific job or something else new to us.
And likely, we made mistakes then and remember the sting from unfair criticism or the assistance from someone who thought that investing in us instead of destroying us was a better use of both of our time.
So the next time you think criticism is warranted, think carefully before delivering it and be careful how you deliver it. The modern approach of flaming someone online or not working with the target of our concern as the women in the coffee shop did doesn't solve many issues.
Sometimes criticism is very warranted, especially when it comes to the ignorant, the greedy and miscreants of a similar ilk.
But for others, I think a gentle word to the wise becomes just as important to the person giving the advice as it is to the person receiving it.
After all, the world doesn’t get better or “improve to our standards” unless we are willing to contribute to helping it get there, otherwise we will have plenty to complain about in the future.
That’s what I think - what do you think?
In service and servanthood,
Addendum - The Manager Responds - March 26, 2017
I sent a copy of this blog to the manager to invite his response. I share his response with permission:
Thanks for sending this along. Personally, I have to agree with you in that all to often we get caught up and forget how genuinely lucky so many of us are to have the luxuries of the lives we lead. As you mentioned, many are so very less fortunate.
One thing I have thought about a number of times in being someone who handles complaints frequently and sees how worked up people can get is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The reason being is that when people are dining in an establishment or driving an $80,000 car and having a miserable husband, their base needs of security and shelter are certainly covered. I then wonder if due to their base needs so rarely getting challenged that if left unchecked their perception can get distorted to the extent that we have "1st world problems". Problems that as you point out, would be one that some wish to be so lucky to have.
Ultimately, I appreciate the article, the honest and intriguing conversation and the refreshing feedback. As I'm sure you are aware, the errors last night would have been not so kindly reported or discussed by so many others and ultimately open honest dialogue is more helpful in helping us improve. Thank you for that and thank you for the thought provoking blog and the reminder that we are very fortunate to be having the lives we do, kindness is important and feedback is a gift.
With an approach like this, I suspect that this restaurant and the gentleman who runs it, whether he stays at the restaurant or moves on to other endeavors, are both creating a great future for themselves and the people who interact with them.
What do you think?