Kind Criticism

by Louise

In a world where everyone gets a trophy how do we offer constructive but kind criticism?

With my kids a tug of war has ensued over my feedback of their Lego projects. An honest opinion from me is termed as being “too negative”. Too negative? Ha! Good thing they didn’t grow up in the home country where a few people told me, that I needed to watch my diet and get more exercise. It was true that compared to my peers I was fat.

How do you give criticism that is kind but effective? How can the receivers absorb the message yet not take offense? Let’s hear it for kind criticism.


92 thoughts on “Kind Criticism

  1. For kids, if they specifically ask for a critique, I’ll give it. But if they ask a more generic, “Do you like my poem?” or “Want to read my essay?” or “Check out my ball handling skills!” I will find something to praise (and there’s always something) and then let the teachers/coaches/etc give all the picky little comments about spelling and presentation and all of that.

    Same with adults, now that I think of it.

  2. If it’s art or some sort of subjective skill, I always say they did great. If it’s school, I do point out mistakes because I want them to learn. For sports, I did recently point out to my seven year old that if she practices her fielding/throwing/catching in softball more she’d probably get to play in the infield more. I critique when they have the ability to be better if they practice/spend more time on that particular thing, I don’t critique when they’re doing something for fun.

  3. This is always hard because people, especially kids, frequently are not looking for feedback, but for praise. When you have done your best work to complete or achieve something, you are looking for confirmation of your abilities. This is when constructive and kind criticism is not welcome. Other times, you know something is not quite right or you aren’t getting the outcome you are looking for. At those times, you really are seeking feedback, guidance or insight.

    When you can differentiate which one they are looking for, it will help you decide how to craft your message. If they are really only looking for praise, they likely will not listen or absorb your criticism. Sometimes asking questions can help you figure out which way to go.

    Recent example in my house – A child is running for an office in a school club and is trying to come up with some slogans for campaign posters. I get “Mom – what do you think of my poster ideas?” Poster 1 has great graphics, but the slogan doesn’t really fit the office . Poster 2 has so-so graphics, but the slogan is on target. I fell for it and suggested combining Poster 1 graphics with Poster 2 slogan. Then I find out my child thinks Poster 1 is PERFECT and I just shot it down.

    I would have been better off to ask some questions first, such as what message are you trying to get across in your campaign or what do you want your peers to think when they see your posters? I got that information later, but if I had had it first, I would have made a different suggestion because the slogan I didn’t think fit was actually a counter to an opponents position and not as irrelevant as I first thought. My child was looking for praise for being aware not to campaign in a vaccuum on Poster 1 and was looking for feedback on the graphics to better support the slogan on Poster 2.

  4. I praise the behavior I want to be repeated. The kids at elementary give feed back in the form of stars and wishes, with stars being the good points and wishes being the areas for improvement. I do not give negative feedback unless it is specifically requested. I phrase this as troubleshooting the problem.

  5. I agree with Risley. I have frequently erred on the side of interpreting these requests too literally. “The Goldbergs” helped me see the value in the “Smother” — not quite to that extent, of course, but having someone who always sees the good and the possibility in you. And I realized that the kids get enough critique/criticism from school and friends. So my default is now to assume they want praise, not an objective assessment, and to find something nice to say.

    OTOH, where it is something they are working to improve on, like schoolwork or sports or whatever, I will make specific suggestions, and then “notice” when they do it and it works. But you still have to be very very careful — a few years ago, DD wanted NO pointers in throwing the softball, and every attempt to make even the slightest suggestion was met with storming off the field. A year later, she had matured to the point of being able to hear criticism if it helped her improve but even there, it wasn’t “criticism” as much as “observations”/”pointers”/”suggestions.” E.g., “I see you are starting the throw with your body facing me. That means you can’t get any force behind the throw [show wussy spaghetti-arm “eh” throw, get laugh]. Why don’t you try starting out facing sideways and stepping toward me?” — Followed by, “wow, you got a LOT more velocity on that.”

    And IME, whatever you do, don’t be Master of the Obvious. EVERY fat person knows they’re fat; EVERY kid struggling in school knows they just got a 46 — and the vast majority of them are hugely, hugely sensitive about these issues. It helps NOT AT ALL to point out things they already know. Your job is to help figure out the things they DON’T know that are keeping them from achieving what they want. And frankly, as a parent, your job is to figure a lot of this out and changing it yourself without even talking about it — e.g., change the whole family’s diet and exercise patterns, figure out a good study space/time, etc.

  6. I was required to take so many training classes about appraisals and how to give feedback. The one piece of advice that was consistent was to try to find something positive to say before delivering the negative feedback. Work is obviously different than home, so I sometimes keep my mouth shut at home if I don’t think there is a real need to give the critique. We are going through this now with DD softball uniform pants. I think they look terrible, and a new size is needed. I made this very clear at the picture day before the season started a few weeks ago. DD disagrees and it drives me crazy at every game, but I haven’t said a word since the first day.

  7. Louise, are the lego projects for school? Or are they just playing? If they’re just playing I don’t see the point of being critical. That’s just fodder for their years in therapy weeping about how “nothing was ever good enough for Mom.” If they’re really planning to be architects or civil engineers they’ll get shot down soon enough in college; they don’t need Mom pointing out the structural defects of their legos.

  8. “I critique when they have the ability to be better if they practice/spend more time on that particular thing”

    Yeah, this too. As much as I support my kids, I don’t have much patience for whining/complaining over self-induced failure. I’m not going to pile on my kid for something she already feels bad about, but I’m also not going to listen to complaints about “fairness” or whatever when they just didn’t practice or study or whatever it was. More likely to be a “yeah, that must be frustrating — so what do you think you can do next time?” diversion.

    I also do like A Parent and praise/point out the good behavior, both in her and her friends. DD moved up an age bracket in softball this year and is competing with/against HS students — last week she had to try to hit off a HS senior pitcher who is going off on a college scholarship next fall (are you freaking kidding me? in rec ball?). So lots of personal failures, but lots of opportunities to point out good habits/behaviors amongst the older teammates — I want to leave her feeling like if she puts in the same degree of practice and effort, she can get where they are.

  9. Oooh, I always hated that “say something positive before the negative” style of feedback. I end up never hearing the positive part because I know the negative is about to arrive. It is such an overused pattern that everyone can see through it.

    For those of you with kids on IEPs/504s, have you ever noticed that the evals that the therapists and/or school psychologists have to generate every year all use the same boilerplate introduction?
    “I evaluated Sam on April 14, 2010. Sam is an engaging 4 year old who enjoys superheroes and baseball, and who engaged with me readily.”. Then, onto the history and the eval. They always start with that little positive sentence about the kid, no matter how dire things are

  10. I also think it depends on the kid. If the child is an over-achiever who basically gets to skate through his/her day hearing only “great job” and not having to push themselves, then there is benefit from a parent calling them out on the skating and encouraging them to put out some additional effort. If the kid is one who gets a steady stream of negative feedback during the school day, or is really struggling with peers, then I think parents need to be much more careful about wording and attune to how their words are perceived. Kids in that situation need more bolstering and help figuring out how to improve their situation, and that requires a lot of positive support.

    So for “kind criticism”, I always start with something positive, and try to get their feedback on how they think it’s going or where they think the problem is, then I offer one suggestion that I think might help. If you hit them with a list of 4-5 things they’re doing wrong, they’re not going to fix anything.

  11. At this stage, I mostly praise EFFORT. But it is hard to remember to do that when you are yelling at them for the tenth time to put on their shoes in the morning!

  12. MBT – agreed. Our #1 kid is definitely a slacker and does well with discipline, esp with teachers (think the archetypal ‘Russian coach’).

  13. Mooshi – yes on the boilerplate. I have received reports that still have a different student’s name in them, or wrong ages/grades, test scores, etc. I would say that over 70% of the reports I’ve received still had info from the prior report that was being used as a template in them. It’s so annoying to have to keep going back, more than once, asking that the report be accurately updated with my child’s info.

    And on the positive thing first – it works on the assumption that you are saying positive things to your child frequently, with many of them not followed up by constructive criticism. If the only time you give positive feedback is in preparation for dealing a blow, then I agree it’s much less effective.

  14. We joke sometimes about this. I read an article years ago about parents who were so praise-ish that they said things like, “Nice breathing, Jacob!” After that, anytime one of us has clearly struggled to find something praiseworthy in what a kid has shown us or whatever, as soon as the kid is out of the room, the other will whisper, “Nice breathing, Jacob!”

  15. I try not to get too negative, but I don’t shy away from criticism. DS2 was studying for a test and got 50% of the problems wrong on the practice test because of foolish errors–wrong signs, not simplifying the fraction, etc. I pointed them out and said “You are too good to be making such foolish errors”, but we also did the practice test 3 times and I was able to point out his improvement.

    DS1 sometimes treats DS2 too harshly and sucks the fun out a vide game session or family outing by being too cutting, snarky, etc. I have to remind him that DS2 is not a peer and that his snarkiness is really hurtful.

    However, I don’t criticize the kids often–maybe once or twice a month. They try to do the right thing most of the time, and that matters a lot.

  16. Sometimes, I try to ask the kids what the end result is supposed to look like. If they can explain the end result, we can talk about how to get there. If they can’t then, we can try to figure out what the result is supposed to be. Sometimes, they don’t actually know. And, as Captain Obvious says, if you don’t know where you are going, it is hard to get there.

  17. I hate to hijack this early on a Monday morning, but I just need to express my self somewhere and I can’t in the real world right now. Two kids from my children’s school were killed by a drunk driver over the weekend. I have known this kids for years. There were good kids with good lives ahead of them. They should have been able to go to prom, graduate high school, have broken and mended hearts, had marriages, careers, heartbreaks and victories. They won’t. I have been trying to be the adult home for my children. I just needed somewhere to cry.

    Thank you for this place.

  18. . If the child is an over-achiever who basically gets to skate through his/her day hearing only “great job” and not having to push themselves, then there is benefit from a parent calling them out on the skating and encouraging them to put out some additional effort.

    If someone is already doing well, why would you want them to put in additional effort?

  19. I try not to be critical of something the person had little control over.

    Agree with trying to figure out what is really being asked. If the child isn’t directly asking for help, I default to finding something praiseworthy. If I am asked for help, I still try to get them to be specific in their request.

    That said, sometimes unrequested critical feedback is due. As Houston mentioned, pointing out how one child’s words or behaviors are affecting a sibling, friend or even an adult. Also, I will point out if practice or increased effort will help the current situation, but only if it is reasonable that the child could do it.

  20. Anon @ 11:13 – oh, how terrible. So sorry about this, for you and those kids and their family and your community. What a dreadful thing. Talk about it all you want here.

  21. Anon @ 11:13 – I would also say, unsolicited I know, that crying in front of your kids about this is perfectly fine. I know you don’t want to be on total meltdown in front of them, but their seeing you broken hearted about a situation that’s heartbreaking is a good thing, imho. Shows them compassion, and might be the one vivid memory they carry with them forever that keeps them from ever turning an ignition after drinking. $0.02

  22. Mostly, I can give criticism with a smile and a bit of humor. “Were you aiming for a cockroach?” “Wha?t” “You know, when you pissed on the wall.” Or when the play room is strewn with litter, “Why didn’t Mrs. X tell me you had a recycling project? Can I help?”

    Report cards are far, far harder. My mother had a really hard time with “Bs”. A “C” was out of the question. I have gotten used to “Ds” in all their variations. I have a real problem with Fs.

    Junior also gets graded on effort. That is where I’ve learned to focus. The grades are one to five, with five being the best. A four or below usually gets the comment, “Junior, your name is Junior Teen Mom. Teen Moms work. They put in effort. Now I want to see this two up to a five or maybe a four.”

    And the grades seem to follow. When that “effort” level in the next quarter goes up to a four, the grade usually improves, too. And then the praise flows. Kind of.

  23. Rhett – My DD#1 had everything scholastic come super easy, all the way through elementary and most of middle school. My concern was always – how will she react when it isn’t easy – will it be to just quit or to perservere? End of middle school put forth some challenges and her reaction was if I want it, I’m going to find a way to get it.

    My friend’s daughter is on the same path – it has always come easy, until end of middle school. Her daughter is taking the path of if it isn’t easy, it’s not worth my time.

    Neither may be right or wrong, but it is definitely shaping the high school selection choices and likely colleges that will be applied to. As a parent, I would have been disappointed in the response of if it is hard at all, I quit.

  24. I’m still working on constructive criticism. I mostly focus on behavior, picking up after yourself, leaving your brother alone, etc. Thankfully, Mr WCE is a much better teacher than I am and I can learn from him about how to ask/support things.

    At conferences, we were told that DS1 did his work but put in little effort and preferred to read a book. My thought was, “Chip off the old block.” As much as I hope my kids will somehow magically develop a work ethic, I admit that I’m lacking in work ethic. Rhett’s comment about “why would you want to put in more effort?” definitely resonates.

    But in thinking about this, I realized I fold laundry for six people, prepare ~100 people-meals/week and care for an infant. There’s a lot to be said for not putting effort where it’s not needed, so you have bandwidth to do things (like take kids to doctor, listen to reading, pick up prescriptions, plan muskrat dioramas) where it IS needed.

  25. Anon – How heartbreaking. I agree with Risley that it is probably good for your kids to see how this affects you as well. Being strong for the kids is also acknowledging that this is a really heartbreaking and sad thing.

  26. “At conferences, we were told that DS1 did his work but put in little effort and preferred to read a book. My thought was, “Chip off the old block.” As much as I hope my kids will somehow magically develop a work ethic, I admit that I’m lacking in work ethic. Rhett’s comment about “why would you want to put in more effort?” definitely resonates.”

    ha ha! We get this comment about DS1 all the time. “Mrs. ATM, your son is so bright but he only puts in minimal effort to complete assignment X.” In my head I’m thinking, yes he is bright, isn’t he? Why waste time on stuff that doesn’t interest you if you’re getting the job done. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Now if he was actually getting graded and pulling Bs/Cs when I know he can get an A, that’ll be another story.

  27. Anon – it is entirely appropriate to cry (not uncontrollable sobbing) in front of your children when the topic comes up today or tomorrow or at the memorial service. Don’t worry about that. However, I do agree that you need to deal in private with your personal expression of grief at the loss mixed with terror that no matter what you do, you can’t protect your own children from everything.

  28. In coaching baseball and softball, I try to do the “sandwich” approach: Give a positive comment, then say what they did wrong and how to fix it, and then about how they’ll get it next time.

  29. On the not putting in effort thing, I agree with Rhett in theory that there’s no need to put in any more effort than necessary. However, the problem comes when a child goes all through school not needing to put in much of an effort, then when the time comes that they do need to put in much more effort, they don’t know how to do it. Not that I have any experience with this.

  30. We are talking about the giving end, but how do you react on the receiving end?

    I will say that the balanced praise/criticism is the easiest to hear, if the praise is thought out. I can tell when the “good job” is a thoughtless front and/or back of the sandwich method. In those cases, I’d prefer you just leave it out. I have also learned to not show it when I am expecting at least some praise and just receive criticism.

  31. Anon- I’m so sorry for your loss. I also agree that it’s ok for kids to see their parents cry a bit over something like this. Grown-ups cry too and we don’t always have all the answers.

  32. Thanks everyone. Risley, Meme, thank you, as always, for your wisdom. I do want to protect my kids from everything, and from what I’ve learned about the accident, there was really nothing the mom or kids could have done. They had no chance.

    Today and tomorrow are just sad. The kids’ school is swarming with local news media and there will be a grief fest at the school. The kids wanted to go to school today. It is probably best for them to grieve together, but a funeral that lasts an afternoon is an ordeal. There will be the same emotional situation all day at school, and into the night. I just don’t want to go through this, but really, there is no other option.

  33. Perhaps because I’ve always worked in a downsizing environment, I’m paranoid that work criticism means I’ll lose my job. With my kids, I want to focus on what TO do and not just what NOT to do. In marriage, we aren’t good at this at all- Mr WCE hates to give or receive criticism in any form, as do I and we aren’t good at making changes. I’ve recently discovered that if I focus on one positive change at a time, I can make a perceptible improvement. One of the nice things about being a woman engineer is that I can observe that having a boring, non communicative marriage doesn’t mean it won’t be stable and enduring, though the few divorces at work seemed to occur because the wife just can’t handle the boredom/isolation any longer. One fellow wife said she plans to leave her husband in place for a couple days after death, just to make sure he’s not “just thinking”.

  34. WCE, ditto. I hardly ever get feedback any more, so at this point no news is good news.

  35. Our pastor mentioned in the service this weekend that she spoke at the funeral of a 47 year old mother of 3 kids, one of whom is a fifteen year old girl at the local high school. 14 people attended–the girl had one friend there. She asked that we think about all of the invisible people we pass in our daily life.

  36. Anon, how devastating for everyone. What a terrible loss–we are here to listen.

  37. On topic, I agree that there is a big difference between critiquing a kid’s schoolwork or similar versus something they are doing for fun with their leisure time. I’m not saying to tell your kid they’re the next Monet if their painting stinks, but I don’t think “constructive” criticism is really necessary in all circumstances. Sometime your kid is just looking for validation. Otherwise they will be that person (did RMS say this?) with a complex because nothing was ever good enough for their parent, even a random painting they did for fun in their free time.

  38. On topic, it depends on the kid and it depends on the context. My oldest definitely needs his butt kicked from time to time so I have been known to give very frank feedback. Actually, my youngest same thing, although in a slightly different way — with him it’s more needing to hear that he’s not all that. My daughter is more sensitive to criticism and also is better about attention to detail in her work, so what she needs is more of the “yes you can do this hard thing” feedback.

  39. Yes, I agree with HM that it depends!

    “For those of you with kids on IEPs/504s, have you ever noticed that the evals that the therapists and/or school psychologists have to generate every year all use the same boilerplate introduction?”

    Yes, and I found that carried through with the narrative part of elementary report cards. At first I was so pleased that my kid was so charming and likable at school, until I noticed the boilerplate language. OTOH, the high school principal who told me how much he liked my D because “she’s one of the few students who actually returns his greeting and even says hi before he does” seemed sadly sincere.

  40. He apparently collapsed after working out at a hotel in Mexico on vacation.

  41. Anon – I am so sorry. Please feel free to vent as much as you need to. A girl at my DD’s high school died in a freak car accident a few weekends ago. So tragic – although it is even worse when it is a DUI situation.

    As you can imagine – Dave Goldberg has been in the local news for the last day or so here. It seems like he was a great guy, so sad for her and their kids.

  42. Apparently he went to the hotel gym and his family went to check on him when he didn’t come back after several hours. Of course he may have died even if someone was right there, but I imagine the circumstances lead themselves to a lot of “what ifs.” How incredibly awful this must be for the family. All deaths are sad, but the freak, unpredictable ones seem to hit especially hard.

  43. Fishy. I am waiting to see some more verifiable information. Billionaires are more likely to run into foul play than somone healthy enough to run on a treadmill could die from a ground level fall.

    Obviously, tragic – but it may not be as random or freak as has been (minimally) reported.

  44. I think his death is so sad, and I hope it was just an accident.

    Totally switching gears, I saw Madeline Levine speak last night about raising children in affluent communities. She is the author of The Price of Privilege and Raising Your Children Well. It was a very interesting discussion for many reasons, but I loved that her three boys followed very different paths. I read both of her books and I recommend the books because she covers many of the topics that we discuss here all of the time.

  45. Ada,

    I was thinking the same thing. But, I chalked it up to watching too much Castle. I assume an autopsy would indicate if the injuries are more extreme than one would expect from such a fall.

  46. I am unclear on the evidence protocols and the autopsy capabilities of the state of Nayarit. Quite possibly they are very good. I imagine more of this story will filter out. Most likely it is something equally sad (sudden heart attack, blood clot in lung). It is also unlikely that someone with isolated head trauma would arrive to a hospital with vital signs but die shortly after (but I do not know the local capabilities of the hospital – even in rural America that should be true).

  47. I always have a phone at my fingertips when I run on our treadmill, always alone in our basement. I think about having a heart attack or stroke, not about falling and hitting my head. Now I’m going to ask my spouse to do the same.

  48. The money quote:

    But the local police investigation into the suspected contract killing has now stalled and British police are refusing to assist because the Commonwealth country of St Lucia retains the death penalty for murder.

    That would be a key plot point in my series of vacation themed mystery novels.

  49. The number of unexpected deaths that don’t get investigated in America (almost always the discretion of the local ME), is astounding. It does make a good conceit for a mystery, if nothing else.

  50. I’m trying to figure out the best way to buy a single share of Walt Disney Co. common stock. I’ve found a website that will sell you a souvenir fake certificate along with a single share for $150. Since it closed at $111 yesterday, that’s a heck of a commission.

    And when you buy these single shares as pseudo souvenirs, how do the mechanics of dividends and taxes work? They’re probably not worth reporting now, but still. And what happens if it splits?

    The website I found is focused just on pretty framing.

  51. That’s what Sharebuilder used to do — the single share thing, but I don’t know if they still do…

  52. looks like you can set up an account directly with Disney. that would probably make more sense, anyway. I do wonder what happens to the dividends of the people who just have the framed certificate as a souvenir.

  53. Robinhood has an app with no account minimums and zero trading fees. It may need to run in the name of an adult.

  54. “John O’Sullivan, general manager of the Four Seasons Punta Mita, said in a phone interview that there had not been any incident at the areas of the resort managed by the company.”

    Apparently there ARE private villas or similar, but still the plot thickens. Reportedly Sandberg was in DC at the time, even though it was described as a family vacation. As part of leaning in she’s said that one of them always tries to be home with the kids for dinner. How will she lean in now? It’s sad.

  55. Risley,

    The plot is coming together. The main character will be a “locum tenens” ER doc who travels around the Carribean treating patients and solving crimes.

    It would also make a good TV show – ER meets Castle set in various tropical locales.

  56. Criminal Minds ran a spin off trial balloon episode this year with an international FBI-ish team of Gary Sinise, a non-cougar 50ish woman partner, and a bunch of model or nerd worthy young associates – who do not chase nightmare-inducing serial killers, but mysterious crimes committed all around the globe against ordinary US citizens. I believe one of them was along to make sure the autopsy was done thoroughly.

  57. The reason I have questions about the sketchy account is that those sort of ultra resort places have service workers who unobtrusively enter every place but the bedroom constantly to make sure the towels are not on the floor, the lemon water pitcher is filled up, etc. In the high security private ultra rich areas, there are security cameras everywhere, and private security details accompany important guests. It is inconceivable to me that any high profile traveler with children would not have his own private security in Mexico. But it is possible – most Americans from UMC to the highest income levels prefer to think of themselves as “just folks”.

  58. When we travel, I use the hotel gym after the family has gone to sleep. No one would notice me until the morning following were I to hit my head (I have never seen another person in the gym after 10 pm). This more the Marriott level of travel.

  59. Meme,

    That’s a very good point especially in a place like Mexico where the cost of labor is low.

  60. Rhett – awesome! The doc should also have a sidekick of some kind to up the number of recurring characters. ;)

    Meme – also in that story, “But the Four Seasons issued a statement saying the incident did not happen on any of its properties and that David Goldberg was not registered as a guest in any of the rooms, villas or residence” – so where was he?

  61. I also like that faking the 80 hour week story. I do the same thing these days – if I have to leave the office for any reason it is for a “meeting”. :)

  62. I have to leave the office for any reason it is for a “meeting”. :)

    Same here. I’ve been doing this for years. I also shift work to the weekends and check in during the evenings (this is much easier now that my kids are older), so that it seems that I work harder than I actually do.

  63. Milo, I am assuming that you are buying the Disney share for your kid so that she/he can learn about the stock market. I bought DD a few shares several years ago, but I did not get her a certificate. Instead she just printed out her favorite Disney characters and used them to decorate a folder where she put her quarterly statements. She loved decorating the folder, much more so than listening me go on and on about stocks and the value of saving money. She doesn’t follow her stock closely anymore, but I occasionally mention it. I told her recently that the stock greatly increased in value from when she purchased it. I told her that it went from the price of three Disney tickets and a small drink to being able to take her, me, and her dad on a nice Disney vacation.

  64. L,

    I found it interesting that men just did it while women tended to ask permission. In the article they also talked a lot about travel. So, I assume most folks are out of the office much of the time so their managers don’t really know what they are up to. So, as long and the client is happy…

    Also, I’m not sure how I’d count travel in terms of the 80 hours. You get up at 4:30am to get on the 6:30 flight to CA. You’re in business so you sleep for 4 hours. You get to CA at 9:30ish, get to the client site at 11 after getting your rental car, etc. You work till 6, then out to dinner with the team and back to the hotel at 9 check e-mail and in bed by 10 (1amET) so that’s 21 hours. You get up at 5:30am the next day for your (8:30amET) 10 min status call. Then you go back to bed for 90 min. Then gym and breakfast and at the client by 9. You work till 5 then off to the airport for dinner then a 2 hour flight to Salt Lake City, get rental car and at the hotel by 11:30pm. 17 hours. So, in two days you’re already at 38 hours of which only 15 is actual “work”.

  65. Rhett – yes. I see that with some of my female friends – they agonize and ask their boss about working from home 1 day a week, etc., and then the boss says no. Assuming you’re not a newcomer, you’ve been working for a while, etc., don’t ask! Just do it and see how long it takes until anyone notices. :)

    You can also bet that they are counting every one of those hours. They’re traveling to the client! Sleeping is immaterial.

  66. I have “appointments” all the time. The other week one of my lunch “appointments” was lunch at my dd’s school. I’m grateful to have a position that allows me the flexibility to leave the office without having to report my whereabouts. On my way back from a client meeting I might stop and pick up groceries, drop them off at home, and then head back into the office. Responding to email after the kids are in bed goes a long way in my reviews. A coworker of mine will always say she is leaving early for a child’s doctor appointment or conferences and I do think this hurts her professionally.

  67. This:
    But the fact that the consultants who quietly lightened their workload did just as well in their performance reviews as those who were truly working 80 or more hours a week suggests that in normal times, heavy workloads may be more about signaling devotion to a firm than really being more productive. The person working 80 hours isn’t necessarily serving clients any better than the person working 50.

    In other words, maybe the real problem isn’t men faking greater devotion to their jobs. Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.

    In the past I have quietly adjusted my own workload, but I also worked in environments that explicitly allowed/encouraged flexibility. Now I’m in a very small office with a traditional butt-in-seat-from-8-to-5-and-no-working-from-home culture, so it’s much harder. You can’t cover with a vague “meeting,” because everyone knows who has what meetings. There’s never been a problem when I ask to leave early, come in late, or go to a mid-day school function, but I just hate having to ask. (But I love the work, so I’m dealing with it.)

  68. At my last job, if you were traveling during the normal workday there was an unwritten expectation that you would work on the plane or in the car if someone else was driving. Of course, a lot of the travel was for project kickoff meetings with clients, so there was a lot of last-minute prep (due to procrastination, poor time management) to do anyway.

  69. Ditto L. I never got that — why go into a long explanation of why you need to leave? No one actually cares that much about the details of how you are managing [kids/clients]; they just care that the work gets done. In the off-chance that they need an explanation, they are perfectly capable of asking — so why volunteer one the other 90% of the time? Reminds me of Dr. Phil’s “you wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of you if you knew how little they do.”

    This is the biggest thing I have learned from my husband.

    @Anon — let me add my condolences here. Such a hard thing even to think about, much less deal with personally.

  70. I was thinking, if you wanted to murder someone, you’d be more likely to get away with it if you did it in a place that had limited resources to investigate.

    The best place (if you can get the target there) is a cruise ship. Hundreds of people have disappeared from cruise ships in the last decade and they are hardly ever investigated. And even if they are, they are in international waters so jurisdiction is a huge issue in trying to prosecute, even if they actually identify a suspect.

  71. Reminds me of Dr. Phil’s “you wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of you if you knew how little they do.”

    I read that somewhere else as well. People wildly overestimate how much others think about them. Like my old co-worker who would leave to go drive her kids places but leave her purse on her chair. Someone would walk over, see the purse and think, “Hum, she must have just stepped away.” Giving it an most 3 seconds of thought.

  72. I would just follow the Beltway sniper model. The key is that you can’t have any traceable motive.

    If I were working on ISIS Operations Development, I would do something like that. “Every Sunday, somewhere in America, we will kill one random infidel with a single sniper shot.”

    The terror-to-effort ratio of that would be incredible.

    Sheep Farmer – Thanks, those are good ideas. I’m thinking I might just buy it through my own brokerage acccount, but we could keep paper records in a folder just like you said.

  73. A student from my university fell off a cruise ship while on spring break – just 2 months before graduation and he had already accepted a job offer. After a few days, they called off the search and he is presumed dead. Stories like these are why I wouldn’t get a room with a balcony when my parents took the family, including then-6-yr-old DD, on a cruise.

  74. Rhett – I love it. Definitely add a side kick. A cruise ship book sounds like a necessary addition to the series.

    HMB could bring out her pirate ship and cause all kinds of turmoil for your doctor.

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