A few weeks ago, my good friend John Holland and I were discussing some really good conversation ranging from music to education. Every time we have a conversation, whether it’s by ourselves or in a group context, the back-and-forth reminds me of a never-ending ladder. One time, as we got into this type of discussion, I remember being thoroughly exhausted from work and him being on the opposite side of the spectrum. Thus, I thought he was talking too much and he probably thought I was saying too little. In the midst of the conversation, he shared that he had too much coffee and chocolate in a really short span.
I remarked, “Explains a lot.”
It was comically terse and grumpy. Of course, John laughed it off but said in a subsequent and reflective conversation, “Sorry for being difficult.” I thought about it for a second, and replied, “It’s OK.” What I should have said, and which is why I appreciate many of the people in my circle, is “It’s OK if you’re being difficult because at least you’re being difficult in order to make true progress.” People don’t get that being overly critical can work against you if you’re almost always difficult and for no real purpose. People don’t respect that, and while they might acknowledge you in person, they’re thinking less and less of you every time something critical comes out of your mouth.
Rather than list the ways in which one can tell the difference between someone who wants to make progress and someone who’s self-interested, I’ll give you a few situations. How about the person who jumps into a conversation to negate whatever you and your friends say but, only after, asks what the conversation was about? How about the person who can astutely point out a problem with a situation but doesn’t see the irony in how they too contribute to that situation? How about the person who gets mad that you did something or said something first, so they prefer to not support you even if it’s a great idea?
You get the gist. Those that I find most helpful to my work push my buttons, but know when to turn that off. They critique carefully and don’t mix the personal with the professional. They only give you criticism in regular doses. They’re not as consumed with who got the “good” done so long as the good got done. They ask questions not because they know there’s no answer to it but because it’s important and relevant to the thought processes necessary to get to the next step. They offer another point of view for the sake of the whole, not for the individual.
Too often, in number-driven clusters, the push towards the former sort of criticism takes places, and too often. If you ever get the chance, find friends like the latter. Just be careful when they’re hopped up on too much sugar and caffeine. You’re in for a ride.