Always a Critic: The Story of Joe and Polly

There is a narrow border between positive feedback and negative nitpicking. While we may not intend to do so, do we empower our words with weapons of counter-productivity? Do we block growth by armoring ourselves with a suit of opinions?  Are we open to suggestions or closed to criticism?  


Always A Critic:The Story of Joe and Polly

Joe and Polly serve as members of their local PTA. Polly was chosen as the group’s spokesperson. She also schedules all the groups activities. On the other hand, Joe recently moved to town and is eager to offer his help, based on his work with other social or community groups.Joe and Polly and the Impact of Negativity

Polly called Joe. Joe, excited about the presentation he had just sent, lost all excitement after the call ended. That excitement, initially, was replaced with anger. Why? Polly told Joe, “I really need you to step up your game. Your good and you can be better, but I need you to step it up. These things that you did before are OK but I want better.”  

Joe was angered as he replayed the conversation, but he gave himself time to cool off. After all, no one likes criticism. Perhaps Polly’s intent was not communicated in the delivery? He also considered that this playground was Polly’s turf. He was just there as a participant.  (Still, it bothered him.)

Polly began calling on Joe to take a more active role, and he saw this as a sign that (maybe) she realized she had communicated poorly. His excitement returned.

The excitement didn’t last. One afternoon Polly told Joe, “You really think too much. I need you to slow down.” Joe was confused.

Next, Polly asked Joe’s help to plan a summer event. He spent hours after work for several weeks planning the event. Finally, he sent all his information to her and, within minutes, a text arrived.


Joe called. “This isn’t what I wanted. I’ll just do it myself.”

Again, Joe was confused and angered. Why did she waste my time?
School was back in session and Joe was asked to participate in a committee. “I am behind all of you and this is yours. Run with it.”  

Maybe the new school year brought with it a new-improved Polly!?!?


The committee reported on their first project. Polly replied, “I said I’ll be behind all of you. I told you this was yours…and this IS. I don’t like it and I don’t hate it. This is yours. If you can make it work, I’ll be with you.”

What can we learn from Joe and Polly?

Regarding Joe

  • Joe has worked with groups before this one. Based upon his immediate anger with Polly (justified or not), he may not be used to someone not immediately responding in a favorable way. Perhaps the other organizations welcomed his input, suggestions?
  • Joe chooses to be angry and does not directly confront Polly. Instead, he immediately is defensive when dealing with her.
  • Joe wants to help. He chooses to remain with the PTA despite the conflicts with Polly.

Regarding Polly

  • Polly is in control. She may say she is behind the team – and she may be – but her words tell another story.
  • Polly has a vision for the PTA – her vision.
  • Polly was chosen for the position for a reason. There are things that she does that are good. Perhaps it is a personality conflict?
  • Polly offers opinions when it would be best not to give them. Always being a critic is not the best route to take.

Ask the following questions when offering criticism:

  1. Does your critique add value to the conversation?
  2. Do your comments provide paths to alienation or merely give voice to your views?
  3. Was the criticism really needed?
  4. Is it your place to give it?

Potential consequences of constant critiques are:

  1. The Cry-Wolf Effect – No one will listen when you really have something to say.
  2. Others will become less involved. After all, why focus efforts on something that will be criticised – regardless of quality.
  3. After the less involved stage, others will become increasingly resentful and – eventually – will leave.

All of us should remember:

There is a difference between striving for success and asserting an individual’s style and views.

Everyone’s time carries value.

A compliment should not always come packaged with critique.  

It may be your sandbox, but play nice. Someone may know more than you do! 

Want others to see things your way? Don’t make everything about getting your way…regardless if you are Joe OR Polly!

What Do You Think?  

Have you ever been in the Joe or Polly role?


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