I used to have a terrible habit of being critical and judgmental especially when people made mistakes. When members of my team messed up, I elevated a good dressing down into an art form. I patted myself on the back that I never did it in public, only in private. Like that made it so much better.
Then I got dinged on my performance review. Turns out, my critiques were not so private after all. My boss gave me the “change or else” talk and I sought help from a colleague who was a good role model. They told me two things that I carry with me to this day.
Lesson number one: Being hyper-critical is pure projection. That’s a fancy word for whatever awful thing I’m accusing you of is actually me “projecting” onto you my own bad behavior. You may have done a poor job on a report but when I say, “this is a piece of shit” rather than “how can we improve this”, I’m revealing my own insecurities about my own work. It’s my inner critic that gets set off. So, I worked on being less self-flagellating and that helped me to be kinder and more human.
Lesson number two: No one wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and decides to f*ck up at work that day. Obvious, right? Once I heard this, I realized how nutty my own thinking was. Now, I’m able to understand we all have bad days.