You’re Just Too Good to be True

The social awkwardness of Larry David on his HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, makes me feel so uncomfortable that I rarely watch it. But I saw a clip from a recent episode which I found so compelling that I willingly endured my uneasiness.

In the episode, Larry is invited to Ted Danson’s house for a party. The entertainment is his best friend Jeff’s daughter singing Frankie Valli’s classic, “You’re Just too Good to be True.” The song lyrics drip with irony as the guests cringe to her off-key rendition, but still smile benevolently so as not to embarrass the girl—but not Larry.
He abruptly stops her after 30 seconds, runs up next to her and asks for a round of applause from the audience to halt the abrasive rendition. The girl is humiliated and her mom is enraged.
This television vignette is like squeaky chalk on the blackboard for me. I have grappled with the art form of giving criticism as a manager of a business and father for as long as I can remember. How do you tell it like it is without crushing the recipient, yet still get your point across in order to get the results you need from an employee.
There is a new book out by Po Bronson and Lee Merryman called Nurture Shock, which argues that modern parents tend to side with the “shower your child with praise to buoy his confidence” model, which the authors decry. They advocate keeping it real rather than complimenting mediocrity. They argue that kids will tune out parents who they know in their bones are praising without really meaning it.
In business it is so tricky to criticize without chastising. If I have learned anything in running a business, it is to be clear in both praise and criticism. People generally accept honesty combined with sympathy.

Question: When dealing with your employees or children, do you tend to use more negative or positive reinforcement?

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