March 29, 2006

belated outrage

As I occasionally do, I was narcissistically reading over my old blog posts in an attempt to avoid actually doing something today. I came across the one about the next Bob Dylan, and thought I might mention my total irritation over the UPenn radio station's 885 best albums list, as voted by their listeners. It's a little late, since they finished the countdown in October or November or something, but it still pisses me off. Why? Because of the top 10 albums, exactly zero were not white guys with guitars. You have to go down to #13 to find a white girl with a guitar1 and #14 to find a black guy with a trumpet2. Then it's all white guys with guitars til #233 and then I get too depressed to keep counting. But of the top 30 "greatest albums of all time" exactly 3 are not white guys with guitars? Are you serious? And of the top ten, 4 are Beatles albums?

Dear XPN Listeners: you suck. I include myself in that, because I didn't vote, and if I had, I probably would have included at least one Bob Dylan album, thus doing my bit for the tyranny of white guys with guitars.

with grumpitude,

1. Joni Mitchell's Blue.
2. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue.
3. Carole King's Tapestry. Which is not one of the 200 greatest albums of all time, let alone #23.

one simple request

please, please, when I ask for a little container of guacamole, don't put shredded cheese on it. please. it's really all I ask.

March 27, 2006

poke, poke

16-year-old boys get a bad rap, points out the Gardener,1 but they're such fun to mess with. Witness this conversation with my cousin Dingo. Imagine me in the car, my dad driving, my brother (also 16) in the front seat, and Dingo's 12-year-old brother the Lost Boy sitting between Dingo and me in the back.

Lost Boy: "Hey, do the kids at [program where I work] have beards?"

Me: "Well, they don't get to shave, so some of them do by the time they leave."

Dingo: "Wait! Does that mean the girls get all hairy and nasty too?!"

Me: "Hairy and nasty like this?"

[pulls up pant leg to reveal unshaven leg]

Dingo: "Aaaaah!"

[hides in his coat]

Me: "I don't shave my armpits either."

Dingo: "But you're a girl! That's what girls do! ... Do you have a boyfriend?"

Me: "I did for a while. He didn't care."

Dingo: "He's crazy. Insane. He really didn't care?"

Me: "No. That was one of the reasons I liked him. But now I have a girlfriend."

Dingo: "NO WAY!"

1. A new addition to our cast of characters. Also, my girlfriend.


I had this experience in January in which I got told that I'm bad at taking feedback. Outdoor ed organizations are kind of obsessed with feedback, with having it happen all the time, and having the people I was about to be working for think I was bad at taking feedback did not enhance their desire to hire me.

The thing is, I was bad at taking the feedback I was getting, mostly because it was inaccurate. In two years of getting formal feedback (a page and a half, in writing) every week and informal feedback nearly every night that I was working, I'd heard a bunch of times that I was good at taking and getting feedback. Which I think is pretty much true, with one caveat that I'll talk about later. But if feedback's inaccurate and you say so, you're being defensive. It puts you in this terrible double-bind where your boss can think stuff about you that hurts your status, and if you challenge it you get more feedback that you're defensive, and if you challenge that it just gets worse.

So. This got me thinking. The place I'm working now has this culture about feedback in which people say "if you have any constructive feedback,1 I'd like to hear it, but I don't really care about the positive stuff." I hate that attitude, and I don't think it's just because I like getting compliments. Positive feedback does three really important things for people and organizations.

1. Positive feedback helps people keep doing things right. People don't always know exactly what they're doing that's effective, and they need to know. These things change from person to person and situation to situation, and we all need that positive reinforcement. Sometimes those things aren't even conscious, and positive feedback does the great service of allowing us to choose to keep doing things we were unconsciously doing well.

2. Positive feedback is a clear demonstration of noticing and caring. Seriously, when someone you just met says, "I'm criticizing you like this because I care about you," do you believe it? I don't. I need evidence that this person is paying attention to me and caring about me before I'll believe it. Some people I trust to give me critical feedback, because they've already shown me a thousand times that they care about me; with people with whom I don't have that trust, positive feedback helps create it.

3. Positive feedback makes people feel happy and appreciated. Everyone likes praise. Most people will work in order to get it. Usually, people in good spirits do better work.

Don't be so damn macho, people.

1. Constructive is the euphemism for critical/negative. I personally dislike that euphemism, as I dislike many euphemisms. Shouldn't all feedback help you learn and grow as a person?