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Efficiency expert spoke at a large corporation to younger executives. When he was done he said, almost in passing, "Be sure you use this information well and don’t try it around the home." One of the men later asked him why he said that and the expert told him this. "I did a study of my wife’s routine while fixing breakfast. She made a lot of trips to the refrigerator and the stove, the table and cabinets—most often carrying only one item at a time. So I said to her, ‘Honey, why don’t you try carrying several things at once. That’d make more efficient use of your time.’ " The expert finished putting the rest of his papers in his brief case, as if he had finished, don’t you know. The curious man finally asked him, "And did it save time?" The expert told him, sort of sheepishly, "Actually...it did! It used to take her twenty minutes to get my breakfast. Now I get it myself in seven."
I hear a lot about "constructive" criticism and I believe in it. But I notice it works better when people assure you they want it, assure you, with a blood oath—say, by opening one of their veins right there in front of you and bleeding long enough for you to say in a matter-of-fact tone, "Okay, I think you mean it." It’s even more assuring when they open an artery. But even then, when you’ve waited long enough that it requires a major transfusion of blood (like seven or eight units—make that a couple of pints), offer your criticism with the right tone. As if every word that escaped your lips was dragging a hefty piece of your liver with it and you were reluctant to turn it loose. Furrow your brows and look as if you were excavating a deep mine shaft to try to come up with something negative. And add caveats by the barrel full. Use phrases like, "But on the other hand..." Or, "Many experienced and wise people would take issue with me here..." Or, "I’m only saying this to keep you from getting the big-head..." (This one has more power when you’re able to generate what sounds tolerably like a light-hearted laugh. At least you should be able to hide the nervousness that belongs in it.)
I want you to understand that there’s nothing in this piece that relates in any way to my wife Ethel. I’m not just saying that because...well...I’m not just saying it because...well, I’m not just saying it, but she doesn’t need to change to any degree in any way. She’s perfect. Why, that woman can—well, never mind, she’s impeccable. And sometimes she reads what I write. And when she’s flying down our hallway behind me she can get up to some speed in that wheelchair of hers and those metal footrests can tear strips out of those solid door-frames when they make contact. (That’s not a criticism!!!! I love the beat-up look of the door frames. Gives them a lived-with look.)
The only piece of advice I’m giving here (and not everyone would agree with me, don’t you understand—in fact most would be against me)—I’m just saying, it might be best to keep your mouth shut!