You Missed a Spot! Five Ways to Spot and Stop Negative, Nitpicking Ways

06/06/2014 05:41 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014
Robert Daly via Getty Images

Are you working with a Missed a Spot manager? Perhaps you are a Missed a Spot manager. More broadly, you may be living a Missed a Spot life, always focusing on the thorns of a perfectly bloomed rose. Here's the story of how I came to name this practice, and how we can spot and put a stop to the Missed a Spot mindset within.

I was 28 years old when my company CEO asked me to produce a white paper about proposed telemarketing legislation -- what it was and how the regulations might impact our company. Bored already? I understand. But it was heady stuff for me. Interacting with the CEO was rare for an employee at my level, and telemarketing was a very hot topic in my industry. I was thrilled by the opportunity.

I was also anxious. I had two weeks to research, learn and turn in facts and recommendations. I gathered data, market trends, media, public opinions and political views, past and former legislation and more. I wrote, and then re-wrote the paper, editing out unnecessary mentions, tightening my copy, ensuring clarity. I ran my draft past several executives to ensure I was looking at the big picture and including all pertinent facts. I lived, breathed and dreamt of telemarketing until turning in the paper. Then I held my breath, awaiting feedback. Soon the CEO's office called. I walked into his office as nervous as could be. Would he ask a question I couldn't answer? Did I miss an important part of the evaluation? What if I completely missed the mark? After inviting me to sit down, he looked me square in the eye and said, "You did not paginate the document."

I felt a heat rush through me like only one time before and one time since. In that moment, I saw my career flash by, forever to be known as the "non-paginator". How could I, the writer, the strictest of editors, make such an error? I quickly apologized and offered to bring him a clean, paginated copy ASAP.

He ignored my offer, fumbled and found the page he wanted to discuss. To this day I don't remember his comments or my responses. I was too fixated on my error, the bad impression I made, my reputation as the employee who didn't paginate her report to the CEO. I took a sigh of relief when he sent my paper to his management team (sans pagination I might add), proclaiming it useful and relevant. We implemented many of my recommendations. Certainly, I've never since missed an opportunity to properly paginate! And I came to calling this "Missed a Spot" management, and vowed that I would never, ever, start a conversation by pointing out an employee's errors.

For the most part I stayed true to my commitment, but admit to blundering and falling into Missed a Spot management moments. I vividly recall a bad day turning worse when I refused to review a press release proclaiming, "I can't get past the typo in the first paragraph. Please review, resolve and resend." How inspiring. Truth be told, my press officer was spot-on in overall content and tone. But I let other frustrations block my view of the bigger picture and in turn, block my ability to properly coach and engage with my colleague. That night I painfully recalled my Missed a Spot pagination session and re-committed to a more positive approach.

Missed a Spot thinking creeps into our daily living. Who among us hasn't made critical remarks on the way home from a holiday party, pointing out the tiniest, most insignificant flaw? The dishes have barely been cleared, the hosts exhausted, and we rip into the food, the décor, even the hosts themselves! At home, we thank our spouse for making dinner but quickly note that the meat was overcooked. And we've all observed the "I couldn't do it, but I insist my kid do it perfectly" parents constantly critiquing their kid's academic or athletic abilities.

The Missed a Spot mindset and behavior can be an inherent character trait or a simply a bad habit picked up by even the most optimistic among us. The good news is, like any trait or habit, there are ways to spot and stop your Missed A Spot approach:

1. Take a breath. Pause and comprehend what you're about to say. Are you focused on the rose or the thorn? If the thorn, how important is your comment in the grand scheme of things? Unless the house is on fire and someone's turning off the water, rethink your words.

2. Are you finding gratification in finding flaws? There are no prizes in heaven or on earth for finding the most errors or proving anyone inept. Instead of catching mistakes, focus on taking pride in helping. You will find personal gratification and enhance performance by guiding others with positivity and encouragement.

3. There can be no buts about it. A throw-away compliment quickly followed by a "but..." and sharp criticism doesn't soften your message. If you have Missed a Spot tendencies, try to eliminate the word "but" from your feedback commentary.

4. Review your day. We have frequent opportunities to provide feedback to our kids, our spouse, our colleagues, the family caregiver, the flight attendant, the grocery store clerk. Did you offer primarily positive and encouraging words, or were there many Missed a Spot mentions? Track your improvement!

6. Know thyself. Is your life or a key aspect of your life feeling out of control? At such times we often we seek stability by controlling and nitpicking trivial matters. Or perhaps you are a perfectionist expecting the same of others? Be aware of how your current life circumstances and personality may provoke a Missed a Spot mindset. Self-awareness is the first step in looking for the beauty of the bloom!