Editor’s Note: Get Curious

Marisa Palmieri

An employee slumps over in a meeting, unwilling to participate, seemingly disgruntled. An irate client calls, accusing your crews of leaving grass clipping all over the driveway. Your spouse points out you’ve been distracted by email lately and asks you to leave work at the shop.

When you experience negative feedback like any of these examples, it triggers a fight-or-flight response. Your face might get red, your blood pressure may rise or you may feel tightening in your chest. You get mad. It’s a natural response, but it’s also not productive.

I recently heard some useful advice about the best way to handle criticism on a podcast called “Radical Candor.”

“Don’t get mad. Get curious,” is the tip offered by the hosts, Kim Scott and Russ Laraway. They are co-founders of management software company Candor. Scott is a former executive at Google and Apple; Laraway is a career-long operation manager across the Marines, Google and Twitter.

It’s important to remember feedback may be negative and accurate, negative and inaccurate or somewhere in the middle. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that you get criticized based on incorrect information. How maddening!

Scott and Laraway say to train yourself to not get upset, and try to understand the kernel of truth in the feedback.

Remember, even when people are wrong, they are right about at least one thing: their feelings about the situation. What you have on your hands is a misunderstanding. It doesn’t help to get mad about it. Find out where the misconception is rooted so you can eliminate similar problems in the future.

I’m glad I had this concept in mind the other day when I received a critical email about our April issue, which highlighted a story about recruiting workers from Puerto Rico.
The email’s author disagreed with our cover treatment. “The combination of the photos being in black and white, the unprofessional appearance of the worker in the photo and the title itself cast a negative approach to this innovative idea,” he said. He also accused LM of being influenced by the H-2B recruiter who ran a cover tip ad in the same issue. “It seemed very suspicious to me that you would have that type of cover page and a large advertisement for H-2B on it.” (I asked him if I could print his comments as a signed letter to the editor, but he declined.)

It’s simply not true that the story was tainted by the advertiser. The article fairly details the obstacles associated with the H-2B program. Our team also didn’t intend for the cover to be negative—but we were going for dramatic. Everyone I interviewed emphasized the labor shortage (in fact, the word “desperate” came directly from some of my sources). We believed the cover should reflect the extreme situation.

Regardless of whether the feedback was accurate—and regardless of our intent—we recognize this reader’s perception matters. So, we’re not getting mad, although our initial feelings about the email included frustration and defensiveness.

We’re recognizing there are positive lessons to learn among the negative feedback. We plan to absorb them—and to stay curious.

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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