Let me set the scene for you. You’re at a dinner party, the folks that invited you have worked their hearts out to make a lovely meal, but it’s not to your liking. And then your worst fears come true.
“How was your food?” She asks so nicely, filled with expectations (and hope). What in the world do you say?
My father, Don, would have simply spit out the facts as he saw them, often crushing the life from the hosts in the process. He wasn’t trying to be mean, he was just being himself and often caught the wrath of my mother when they got home. I certainly picked up a bit of that from Dad but over the years I have learned to control it so as not to cause pain (at least I hope so).
What happens when dinner’s not the question, but a friend or customer asking you about their audio system? I can tell you I’ve been in the tough situation before when the owner of a system I didn’t enjoy anxiously asked for my opinion. As well, I’ve been on the opposite side of the coin too, watching the uncomfortable body language of shuffling feet and downward cast eyes as I hoped for praise on all the work I invested in my system.
I put together a little video on the subject here, and I share a funny story of just such an incident from years ago.
Another incident I clearly remember happened years ago when (then) Stereophile publisher Larry Archibald paid a visit to my home in California. I had built a homemade pair of speakers that featured some really innovative new technology I had invented that expanded the dynamic range possibilities of a speaker (remind me to write about that invention someday).
While Larry was obviously impressed with the invention, he wasn’t similarly excited about the homebrew speakers I had built. In my excitement to show off the system I asked for his opinion and got crushed. Not directly, mind you—Larry was and is a gentle soul and would never have said anything harsh to me directly. But, I knew. His body language spoke louder than any words he could have used. I felt bad enough I didn’t turn the speakers back on for weeks.
When people ask me now I try and be as gentle as possible and focus more on being supportive without being cruel or dismissive.
It never does any good to criticize and the best we can do is offer support, guidance, and understanding.