Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain

dale carnegie smoking a pipe

The best new ideas can be found in old books.

Principle #1 from How to Win Friends…

“Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.”

No one wants to hear it.

Related to the concept of quiet professionalism.

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In-person, on the phone, or via email — in that order

carrying the gun

Staff work entails lots of coordinating. Lots of communication with people inside and outside of your organization. Today, much of that communication occurs via email.

I bet you think you’re “good” at email.

It feels like work, doesn’t it?

It’s not work. It’s the illusion of work.

The other day, I fired off an email with some information and some questions to someone outside of my organization – hundreds of miles away. After I sent it, I didn’t think much of it. I figured I’d get a response in the next 24-36 hours.

A few minutes later, I found myself surprised when my office phone rang (hardly anyone ever calls me) and when I answered it was the person I had sent the email to. I was surprised.

In about 5 minutes, we covered all of the ground we needed to and were ready for the next step.

This is a lesson I learned many years ago. When it comes to getting things done (from other people), the priority should be in-person, on the phone, or via e-mail: in that order.

When someone comes to visit you, you stop and politely see what they need.

When someone calls you, you answer the phone and have a conversation.

When someone emails you, you likely process it through some system you have developed for managing the correspondence. Flag for later? Move to folder?


Of course, every organization has formal and informal business rules. I’m not going to just walk into the office of a superior because it is more efficient for me.

But it is worth pausing from time to time and asking – “Can I accomplish this more quickly through a phone call?”

“Can I just walk over to their office and ask?”

You may be surprised by the results.

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The importance of having an “organizing principle”

star organizing principle

I’ve noticed that I perform best when I have an organizing principle. That is, the thing in my life from which all other things branch off. Having an organizing principle – a guiding north star – helps steer my thinking and decision making. It doesn’t remove the need for critical thought, but rather serves as a reminder of what I’m ultimately trying to accomplish.

I’ve found it best to use something specific, some specific short-to-medium-term goal or process. Saying that your “job” or “family” is the organizing principle isn’t specific enough and hurts more than it helps.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed the same to be true for good military units, from the platoon to battalion level. Those that had an organizing principle and whose subordinate formations nested that principle tended to perform better. It could be something simple like “physical fitness” or more targeted like “success at NTC.” As long as it makes sense and people believe in it, it is helpful.

Of course, simply having an organizing principle doesn’t achieve the result. It’s a reminder that you have to actually organize things towards accomplishing that goal. It seems so simple, but most of us – people and organizations alike – go through our days and weeks without a real end goal. We’re just grinding along. There’s nothing wrong with hard work, but what is it headed towards?

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