Wednesday, January 22, 2014

fishing for a compliment

When I worked in the corporate world, at the beginning of each fiscal year, employees and their managers would review some of the successes and challenges of the previous year as a guide to help determine their career objectives for the upcoming one.

Many of my coworkers really dreaded the employee review process.  For some, including myself, I already had intimate knowledge of my challenges, and with deadlines to meet, I didn't have time for compliments and another "pat on the back"!  However, many of my former employees only wanted to hear compliments...and were anxious about any scrutiny or criticism.

Earlier this month, mid-term exams for the older grades were held at my children's school.  My son asked why it was necessary to have exams.  I explained that exams serve to encapsulate the overall understanding of a subject, unlike tests that reflect specific points in time of the learning process. It was also to prepare the students for the process of high school, and this was just a way to help them grow towards that goal.

He thought about my answer for a while and was satisfied that there was nothing for him to worry about.  In our house, we have always emphasized that it's NOT just about the number score on the test that's important, but it's application of that learning.  In other words, what did that test tell us?  If everyone did poorly on the test, maybe it speaks not just about the difficulty of the subject matter, but the way the subject matter was taught. However, if only a handful of kids didn't do well on the test, then it speaks more about their study habits or that maybe their learning styles didn't match the teaching techniques.  For us, tests have always sparked the conversation to create solutions to improve study habits or finding different teaching methodologies.

I think I wouldn't have had this perspective at home if I didn't have it professionally.  I have always learned valuable lessons when I took a hard look at criticism; how it's presented and it's context within the work environment.  It also helped me evaluate not just my own abilities, but those that reported to me, and those that I reported to.  "Work to hear feedback as potentially valuable advice from a fresh perspective rather than as an indictment of how you’ve done things in the past." (source: Harvard Business Review's " Find the Coaching in Criticism")

Although logistically the process of reviews, tests and exams can sometimes take up a large block of time, the results are invaluable and should really be thought of as stepping stones towards gaining confidence of truly knowing yourself, and understanding that you can still progress towards your goals despite any perceived "weaknesses".   I hope my own children will continue to learn, explore and see value in these "tests"...and hope they seek understanding and guidance instead of fishing for compliments.

Food for thought.

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Hors d'oeuvres
(serves about 6 people)


  • 1 large english cucumber
  • 1 cup cream cheese (approximate)
  • Smoked salmon


  • Slice cucumber.
  • Spread 1 tsp. of cream cheese (or more, to taste...I've also used herbed cream cheese).
  • Slice the salmon in long strips.
  • Roll the salmon, and place on top of each cucumber slice.


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