Lynda and I have chosen 6:30 Monday mornings as our time to put the world right via the elliptical machines at the YMCA. Between breaths we typically solve perplexing dilemmas such as how to dust bookshelves. Lynda’s bookshelves put mine to shame… or rather they did, until a couple months ago when I recommended my favorite house cleaner, Patsy. This particular morning Lynda told me Patsy wasn’t cleaning up to her standards. My heart rate rose and I can’t blame it on the machine. It was as if I was lugging a pile of bricks along on my workout.
Understand that our family loves Patsy dearly. To date I have recommended her to not only Lynda but also my own daughter-in-law, who just yesterday critiqued Patsy’s cleaning. Of course this rang true with Lynda’s feedback, but more frustrating — and the reason for my increased heart rate — is that I had noticed the decline in Patsy’s performance myself. So why was I the last to speak up?
It’s that pile of bricks.
In my world, bricks are metaphors for things that get in the way of keeping our daily relationships healthy. Bricks are the annoyances that build up because we either ignore them or don’t deal with them properly. And they grab your attention at the most unwelcome times. Oh, say, when chatting with your friend during a workout.
Bricks are heavy little things that tend to create either walls or piles of rubble. Either way they impede our progress and block off our relationships with others. You can speculate on how the bricks got there: sometimes a dump-truck got the wrong address, but often we’re the bricklayer. Regardless of where they came from, when they’re stacking up in your path, it’s up to you to remove them — and, ahem, when they stack up in my path, it’s up to me to remove them.
In my case, on that Monday morning I was becoming painfully aware of the bricks in my path. I mean, come on, I teach people how to give feedback, the skillful removal of bricks: so why had I not acted sooner on my own dissatisfaction with Patsy’s work? Why was I wimping out? After all, I was paying my hard earned money and not getting the results I needed.
Mondays are Patsy’s day to clean, and with two sets of negative feedback on top of my own, I could no longer stay silent about my disgruntlement. But how to build something positive out of these bricks? I’m reminded of the term “constructive criticism.” Workplace consultant David Lee cites the 19 mistakes we make when attempting to give constructive feedback. Number 1 (and my personal favorite) is “sugar coating negative feedback.” After all, I do want people to like me, don’t I? What’s a few bricks in our relationship if I stay popular?
It’s tempting to become that agile brick-walker or wall-climber and just navigate around the irritations in our relationships. But no matter how agile we may be, the bricks are still there. The key to managing the bricks in your life is threefold:
- Acknowledge the bricks that are there. In my case, my own silent dissatisfaction was something I alone was responsible to resolve. Lynda and my daughter-in-law must deal with their own bricks.
- Where did they come from? You’re welcome to spend a little time figuring out how these nuisances got there, as long as it’s constructive (and not blame). But if the bricks are there in your way, the more urgent need is:
- Decide to clear them out. Patsy and I sat around the kitchen table that Monday afternoon as I presented my concerns. She was surprised to hear my dissatisfaction. And she cared; she was determined to improve.
Already there has been a huge improvement in her performance, back to the caliber of work our family had come to expect… and better.
Watch out Lynda, my bookshelves are now dust-free! And without this pile of bricks, next Monday morning I should hit the elliptical trainer like champ.
Photo by Randy Son Of Robert