Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tact: A Lost Art

Wait, didn't we already deja this vu? Yes, we did, but consider today a continuation of yesterday's post and taking into account that the Moon remains in the sensitive sign of Cancer, it's fitting. In addition to making everyone a little more emotional, we're all going to be a little sensitive and quite possibly, a little more critical than we might normally be. At least, on the inside. What happens when that comes out?

I started to think about the ways that we express ourselves, especially when we're offering criticism. Of course, it didn't hurt that I had my classroom management class yesterday, which is all about how to relate to students so they don't, you know, pull a gun on you for asking them to sit down. Terrifying to think that's even a worry in today's schools. I digress. The point is that there are many ways to offer information to someone else. And most people aren't stupid. They know when you're lying. They know when you're blowing smoke up their ass. Still, some are more than willing to listen to the flattery. After all, flattery will get you everywhere. What about the other side of the coin? Where does criticism get you?

For the most part, we are encouraged to speak our minds. First Amendment and all, right? Well, sure! I mean, I'm blogging here - obviously, I'm not going to argue against Freedom of Speech and Press. And most blogs tend to be somewhat controversial. That's why we read them. They're opinions, stated for everyone to read and agree or disagree with. Online, and especially in real life, it seems as though Freedom of Speech means a disregard for another person's feelings. If that person is a Cancer or a Scorpio, look out!

How you say something is just as important, if not more so, than what you say. We developed language so that we could communicate and we use it more often than not to hurt or belittle or flatter for our own gain. In such a narcissistic society, how can we be expected to look further than our own interests? Okay, okay, not everyone is out for themselves, but it's certainly encouraged through the actions we see around us every day - people shoving to get in the subway, butting in line, talking loudly on the phone; even the iPod is designed to block out the world and focus on you, you, you. Not that some selfishness isn't good, but it might not be the most effective way of communicating with others.

Story time!
I had a fairly recent event occur at my former job. Like any good artist in NYC, I was waiting tables. Now, the ketchup lids at my station had not yet been cleaned (I was finishing up) and my manager saw this, flipped out, and called the entire staff over. This was the first time that I had ever been told, warned, spoken to about the ketchup lids. Granted, he had a point - they were dirty. Okay. Valid. Totally on board with that. I was then reamed out in front of the staff as an example and written up by this manager. I was totally flabbergasted. Having now been screamed at (never one of my favorite activities), embarrassed in front of my coworkers (I'd rather see a middle school production of Mamet), and written up (with no warning) over ketchup lids, I was needlessly frustrated and angry. From then on, any time this manager was on the floor, I became hyper-sensitive, uptight, and anxious, which made me prone to more mistakes. Effective? I think not.

How I wish I could bring that manager, and some other folks I know, to the classroom management class! Perhaps it's an older generation thing, but ruling by fear is not going to yield the best results. You'll get obedience, but it'll be grudging and resentful. Had my manager simply taken me aside and said, "Look, I noticed that the ketchup lids in your section are dirty. We can't have that. Please take care of it immediately. This is your warning," I would have jumped to fix the situation and I would have been on the alert in the future, but I would not have been nervous about it. I don't need to be coddled. I don't need to be babied. I do need to be informed. A employer-employee relationship is just that: a relationship. Communication is essential in any relationship. After all, you're not going to react too fondly if your romantic partner suddenly starts screaming at you and threatens to break up with you because you left a glass on the coffee table. For something that could have been so easily fixed, he blew it completely out of proportion. The staff meeting would have also been fine if he had made it a blanket statement for everyone. "Ketchup lids are getting dirty. That's unacceptable." Cool. Message received.

Fear is not the most effective motivator. Encouragement is. I mean, real encouragement for adults. We're not children, but even the toughest adult can have a fragile self-esteem. Speaking with respect is going to gain you so much more loyalty than dangling my job in front of me. I could go with a fly/honey/vinegar cliche here, but seriously, who wants flies? Tact is not a hindrance and it shouldn't be viewed as such. We can speak to each other with respect and still disagree and get our point across. I love sarcasm as much as the next Jeanine Garrofolo, but it depends on the situation and must be used in moderation. The advent of the net has added to our lack of tact. We're not actually talking to a person; we're typing to a screen. Why bother with netiquette? Yet, it's even more dangerous because there are no social cues in written form. Thank goodness for emoticons! :)

Not trying to Emily Post here, but in today's world, it seems that we have become far less concerned with the effect we have on others and the sensitive-yet-critical Cancer in all of us has the power to snap back. I urge you to take a look at how you speak to others. We're all guilty; myself included. If you feel your tact is not intact, try a different tack.

Remember: Cancers are soft underneath their shells and they have claws, so be careful how you say what you say!

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