Thanks for Noticing – Responding to Criticism


I suspect that all of us have seen  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at least once. In the movie Clark Griswold played by Chevy Chase works night and day to install and light 25,000 Christmas twinkle lights on the family home. After many trials and errors, persistence pays off to a spectacular illumination show. The family gathers on the front lawn to admire the work and offer congratulations on a job well done. Well almost…

Nora Griswold (Clark’s mother): “It’s beautiful Clark!”

Art Smith (Clark’s father-in-law): “Some of them little lights… they aren’t twinkling.”

Clark Griswold: “I know, Art. Thanks for noticing”

You’ve put heart and soul into something, it’s done and then instead of congratulations you hear, “Some of them little lights… they aren’t twinkling.”. You feel underappreciated and annoyed that despite the accomplishment, someone has chosen to find a small fault and communicate it to you and potentially those around you.

So perhaps the most human reaction is to become either defensive of the work completed or perhaps just become offensive. No, we really should react more like Clark Griswold…

“ …  I want to look him straight in the eye, and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, hopeless, heartless, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey #$%@ he is! …” – Clark Griswold

Well then again maybe not. Let’s look only at the first Griswold example.

“I know, Art. Thanks for noticing”. It represents the two of the basic components of accepting criticism gracefully.

  • Acknowledge it
  • Show that you appreciate the insight.

Example: Client X

Deliver a final architecture plan to the CxO, after months of work, validation by every client team and sign-off from the program leads.

Complete a 2 hour debrief on the plan with the CxO and conference room full of client resources on the new strategy and request their input or concerns.

CxO: “Yes, I have a concern. Our standard is Time New Roman 12 Font for all of our internal documents. This is clearly not that.”

Silence for a moment except for what sounded like a stifled giggle/snort from the back of the room.

The CxO was correct, it was in fact not. My response “You are correct. It’s my error. Thanks for noticing that and we will get that corrected immediately and republished for you by tomorrow morning. My apologies. Will that meet your needs and do you have additional concerns we can discuss?”

  • Acknowledged
  • Appreciated
  • Remediation Proposed
  • Confirmation of Remedial Action Plan
  • Agreement to Proceed with other work

Personally, I find it pretty easy to take input and criticism from a client. My challenge personally is when it comes from your own project team. It’s your team, you expect everyone to have shared objectives, rally together for the common good and to provide criticism to make the team (and you) more successful.  You assume that motives are genuine, transparent and that criticism is intended solely for positive reasons. However, that’s likely naïve.

I know that I should treat all internal/project  people as if they were external clients and in fact when criticism is provided use exactly the same proven A-A-R-C-A  methodology to respond to their comments. However, my response may just have to improve over time.

For now…

I know and thanks for noticing. (Times New Roman 12 Font – Bold)



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2 Responses to Thanks for Noticing – Responding to Criticism

  1. John Spencer says:

    Great insights Ian. It reminds me of a book I once read where Winston Churchill in his retirement had just put the finishing touches on a brick wall he had build behind his house. Not being a skilled craftsman, but obviously pleased with his efforts, he took a break and was admiring his accomplishment. As he tells the story … a neighbour happened to be strolling by and stopped to chat. He looked at the wall that Winston had built and said… “Hmmm…if you look at it from the side you will notice that there are a couple of bricks that jut out from the rest.” Without pausing…or looking … Winston said to his neighbour…”Any fool can see what’s wrong, but can you see what’s right!”

    I’m not suggesting we call our critics fools! But it gives us a great visual to put things in perspective when we are being criticised. Let’s look at ALL the “bricks” . Cheers. John

  2. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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