Randy has a healthy sense of self-worth and he tends to speak his mind and say what he believes. Mostly, these traits have served him well, but there have been times when he has come across as “arrogant and tactless. That’s when those who can help you recalibrate yourself become absolutely crucial.” Tammy, Randy’s sister, often had to keep Randy’s ego in check as a kid. When Randy was seven and was mouthing off at the bus stop, Tammy had enough and dropped Randy’s lunchbox in a mud puddle. Tammy ended up in the principal’s office while Randy got cleaned up by a Janitor who threw out his lunch and kindly gave him lunch money.
Using other people as feedback loops in order to change your behavior—even if you don’t necessarily want to listen to them—is extremely important to Randy. Although Randy probably didn’t enjoy having his lunchbox tossed in the mud by his big sister Tammy, the feedback that he received from her about how annoying his mouthing off was turned out to be more valuable to Randy than his sandwich.
The Principal called Randy’s parents, and Randy’s mom said she would let Randy’s dad handle it. When he got home from work and was told the story, Randy’s dad burst into a smile, decided not to punish Tammy, and “did everything but congratulate her!” Randy’s dad knew Randy was a kid who kind of needed to get his lunchbox thrown in a puddle. Later, when Randy was attending Brown University and his self-confident lack of tact was at an all-time high, his friend Scott Sherman said that Randy was known as the “quickest to offend someone he had just met.” Randy didn’t notice how he came across to others, until, one day, Randy’s mentor and teacher, Professor Andy van Dam, took Randy for a walk and told him “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”
Randy’s dad understood that young Randy crucially needed that feedback from his big sister, and, as an adult, Randy seems to agree. Although the feedback from Professor Andy van Dam (that “people perceive” Randy as arrogant) certainly hurt his ego when he first heard it, in the long-term, being told that he was arrogant led to a change of attitude that was invaluable to Randy for the rest of his life.
Looking back, Randy notes that Andy van Dam’s wording was perfect—he was basically telling Randy he was a jerk, but he said it in a way that let Randy become open to Andy’s criticism. There’s an old expression, a “Dutch uncle,” which is someone who gives you honest feedback. Though few people do it nowadays, Randy believes that giving people honest feedback is crucial to the teaching/learning process. Randy says he’s been “lucky enough to benefit over the years from people like Andy,” who have cared to tell him the “tough-love” things he needed to hear.
Rather than flat-out telling Randy he was an arrogant jerk and needed to change his behavior, Andy van Dam’s phrasing of “it’s such a shame…” framed the problem in a way that made Randy open to addressing it. To Randy, having your flaws pointed out in a direct, helpful way can be an opportunity to change yourself and improve in the future. In order to create a successful feedback loop, then, you have to be mindful about giving feedback in a way that people will be open to receiving.