Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fairness–Taming Our Tongue (And Our Keyboard)

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.

Kind regards,


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?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Next Major Epidemic in America – The Inability To Express Ideas

Those who cannot understand how to put their thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of debate. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. - John Adams

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. - Mark Twain

As was to be expected last night, the President’s State of the Union address produced mixed opinion.  However, I didn’t see clear lines separating the two sides as I would have expected, especially the line allegedly dividing the left and the right.  (I say allegedly because I often see people arguing for the same idea when they believe they are representing opposite sides to an issue).

The line I saw represented the difference between people willing to give the President a chance or to at least analyze the data / fact side of his proposals before commenting versus those who wanted to hate or trash him simply for the emotional sake of doing so.

I was discussing his speech with a friend of mine and the importance of fact checking his speech without blindly discarding it when a person I have never met tossed this interesting statement into the conversation, claiming that President Trump’s policies will adversely impact women’s health as well as clean air and water.

The statement in itself is fair enough – someone is using their right to express an opinion.

However, as past and current teams who have worked with and for me know, any statement or position provided to me will always be responded to with:

Why do you say / do / recommend / believe this?

How do you know?

In fact, they know that they should have the answers to these questions before presenting any statement or solution to me.

And so in that spirit, I responded with a request for data.

One never knows what one will receive on social media when requesting facts but I will always give a person a chance to explain themselves and their positions.

The person responded by saying that that President chose an EPA Administrator who wants to get rid of the EPA.

Fair enough.  When I again asked for evidence that this was the case and for evidence that women’s health issues would arise from the POTUS’ policies, this person responded that they feared the total elimination of the EPA.

Ok – we’ve already established that this is her fear but she cited the problem itself as evidence to justify the reality of the problem.

So after I requested proof that the EPA would be eliminated (her words), she indicated that no one could predict the future (but she had already done so by predicting the elimination of the EPA) and that asking for data was a ridiculous standard.

When I asked her why asking for data was a ridiculous standard, she fell back on an old trick, turning the debate around so suddenly I was supposedly the one who had made a statement that required supporting evidence.

So now I need to prove she is wrong, even though she hasn’t proven that her large claims have any data or evidence to support them.

But it was the final part of the conversation that caused me to realize that this “discussion” wasn’t really going anywhere useful.

When I pointed out that she had claimed that the EPA was dead (eliminated was her exact word), she responded with a denial that she had ever said such a thing.

When I sent her a screen shot where she contradicted herself by claiming it would be eliminated and that we were now in a circular argument, she vanished.

Meanwhile, someone observing the interaction sent me a private note telling me that perhaps I should stay off social media.

To this person, I ask this question:

Why – so that emotion-laden, rhetoric-armed, fact-less people can roam around, inject themselves into conversations, attempt to whip up hysteria / fear and then vanish when presented with a request for facts or proof that their alleged reality is mine also?

In other words ….

So that opposite sides to every issue will be eliminated by being whipped into silence?

I was curious who this person was and so I looked up her personal persona.

It turns out that this person is the Senior Director of International Compensation and Benefits at Visa (a very credible, respectable organization).  She was educated at Cornell so lack of education is not the issue neither does she represent the “bored unemployed directionless” group that some people suggest represents the bulk of anti-Trump folks.

So she has influence – the question then became “does she use this influence in a useful, effective way?”

In exploring her other public sharings about how happy she was to be marching against President Trump, I came upon this nugget that she shared

And so as I looked at her Facebook posts about all the marches she is participating in, her drive-by argument with me that produced nothing of any benefit to anyone and this cartoon, I realize that she is representative of something that is killing America:

The lack of ability or interest to use facts and data in the form of a compelling discussion that convinces someone else that their position / belief is worthy of exploration with an eye towards convincing someone else to change their position or at least encourage people to find middle ground on something being explored.

After all, that is how we grow, teach, learn and become better as a species and as a society as we seek common ground to make the world a better place.

When instead, we use emotion, fear (and for some, intimidation) only, we are less likely to convince anyone of anything and will produce little of any real, tangible value.

Meanwhile, the things we fear will continue to grow, either in reality or in our mind, since we are not actually offering solutions to problems real or imagined.

As for this person, if a person wonders out loud whether they are creating or destroying today, then I know what kind of person I am dealing with.

It’s a “my way or the highway” person.

The last time I checked, I haven’t discovered too many people who created a better world because they wondered which of two choices was best – creation or destruction.

How about you?

I prefer creation and collaboration towards a solution – perhaps I’m misguided.

The Bottom Line

The noise that surrounds the POTUS is not “his fault”.  America has been forgetting more and more over the years (and across many administrations) that we solve problems by offering a hand instead of a fist, by offering facts instead of emotion, by suggesting a position instead of playing “king of the mountain”, by listening instead of just talking (or shouting) and that respectful, fact-based, collaborative dialog is FAR more likely to produce a better world than merely folding our arms defiantly and telling everyone else they are wrong “just because”.

If we allow current trends to continue, where rhetoric-laden, fear-based shouting carries the day, we may at some point create a world that actually embodies everything that everyone fears.

And if that happens, shouting won’t matter then.

If that happens, we may not have a government that allows the sharing of opinions towards common goals.

In fact, we may not have a government at all.

And by then, people who like to complain can complain all they want.

The rest won’t listen – they will be too busy just surviving.

Is that the best we can create and the best way we can create it?

Is that the best role model we can present for our children as to how a better world gets created?

I don’t think so.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


PS People protesting against the POTUS’ policies “just because” like to quote people like Hillary Clinton or Nelson Mandela.  Perhaps these two quotes would serve of value to those people.

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. - Nelson Mandela

What we have to do... is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities. - Hillary Clinton

We need to take the high road together lest we all end up somewhere far less desirable that we want or deserve.

But to deserve better, we must prove it and work together towards it.

Otherwise, we do get what we deserve but it’s often far less than we desire.

Whose fault is that?