Asked for your opinion of something you think is subpar, how should you reply? Should you offer gentle reassurance—pointing out the good, then suggesting alternatives—or should you come straight to the point (“It’s bad”)?
Here are two arguments for the latter:
1. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” —Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) in Whiplash.
2. Steve Jobs’s taste for merciless criticism was notorious. Jony Ive recalled that after seeing colleagues crushed, Ive protested. Jobs replied, “Why would you be vague?,” arguing that ambiguity was a form of selfishness: “You don’t care about how they feel! You’re being vain, you want them to like you.”
Ive was furious, but came to agree. “It’s really demeaning to think that, in this deep desire to be liked, you’ve compromised giving clear, unambiguous feedback,” he said. He lamented that there were “so many anecdotes” about Jobs’s acerbity: “His intention, and motivation, wasn’t to be hurtful.”
Addendum (3/9/2015): An argument for the former:
“The real power of workplace recognition is not in motivating the most elite levels of talent in the organization. It’s in mobilizing the majority—recognizing the vast middle tier that helps move the organization forward every day. Though recognition for a job well done may be demotivating to a rare few superstars, it’s exactly the thing that pushes the rest of the staff forward.”
Addendum (8/9/2015): Another Jobs argument for the latter:
The Jobs portion of the story occurred on a late-October morning in 2010, when he was sitting with a mutual friend in the restaurant of the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco. The waitress, a shy woman who looked to be in her mid-30s, according to the friend, approached them and asked what they wanted for breakfast. Mr. Jobs said he wanted freshly squeezed orange juice.
After a few minutes, the waitress returned with a large glass of juice. Mr. Jobs took a tiny sip and told her tersely that the drink was not freshly squeezed. He sent the beverage back, demanding another.
A few minutes later, the waitress returned with another large glass of juice, this time freshly squeezed. When he took a sip he told her in an aggressive tone that the drink had pulp along the top. He sent that one back, too.
My friend said he looked at Mr. Jobs and asked, “Steve, why are you being such a jerk?”
Mr. Jobs replied that if the woman had chosen waitressing as her vocation, “then she should be the best.”