More From Grandma Ham

I was blessed during my growing up years to live less than 50 yards from one set of grandparents --- Grandma and Grandpa Ham.  They were my refuge during periods of disharmony, most of which I caused!

I know my mother struggled to maintain sibling harmony between  my three sisters and I and two female cousins who also lived nearby.  Being out numbered five to one I was frequently at odds with the females! 

When it seemed obvious that a situation was developing that would probably end up with me being disciplined I would often make a hasty exit and go visit Grandma.  I am positive that she was almost always aware that my errant behavior had prompted the visit.  In all those years she never, not even once, scolded or criticized me –-- even the time when she knew my friend Milton and I smoked a cigarette.  Never a guilt-creating criticism --- just priceless guidance.


Prior to my consulting career I was an employee of the Mountain Bell Telephone Company, an AT&T company, for 20 years.   It was a very honorable company and afforded repeated opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

I began as a lineman and enjoyed the physically demanding work.  Three years later I was promoted to Combinationman and enjoyed the great variety of tasks maintaining telephone communications in the small mountain town off Salida, Colorado.  For a time I was known as Snowshoe Ham because of winter time maintenance of wire toll lines over the Continental divide. 

In my semi-annual performance reviews I was always rated as Completely Satisfactory or Outstanding.

In my eighth year of employment I was promoted to Business Salesman.  No more “blue collar” --- I wore a suit and tie every day.

I worked very hard at my new assignment.  Yet, in spite of my dedication to hard work and commitment to succeed as a salesman, I dreaded my semi-annual review.   I knew my performance was less than Completely Satisfactory.   Monthly sales could be measured to the penny -- some months I never made my objective.


On the Friday afternoon of my scheduled review I entered my sales manager’s office with trepidation. After the normal greeting and a hand shake he put my fears at rest by saying,  “Bud, I believe you have a brilliant future with the Bell System and I want to help that happen sooner rather than later.”  He very well may have heard my sigh of relief!

During our meeting I knew I was in a safe place.  That safety was created by his tone of voice, choice of words and body language.  Several times during the review he would reach out and touch my arm and say, “and Bud hear this”   -- I was a sponge soaking up every word he said! 

 The review lasted about an hour.  During this time he gave me five relevant suggestions --- not one criticism.  As I left his office it was as if I was “floating” rather than walking—I was on such a high I did not sleep well all weekend and could hardly wait until Monday to implement his suggestions. 

For the next five months my results were outstanding -- I never received the next semi- annual review –- I was promoted to manage a large area of eastern Colorado.  

The Regional Manager I replaced was a nice person but as a manager he was inept.  It seemed that almost every decision I made me look like a star!   Three years later I was promoted again, this time to Management Trainer.


My new assignment was to conduct week-long classes on behavioral management for twelve managers.  I was required to study human behavior.  I read books on management theory, personal growth, communications, and psychology.  I relished every bit of it.

I attended several classes on self-awareness, personal growth, group dynamics and training skills --- all sponsored by AT&T.  The concept defined below was introduced at one of these sessions.   I have found it profoundly useful.  I encourage you to study it carefully.


This psychological defense mechanism exists between each of us and the outside world.  Its function is to block out any information, coming from the outside world to me, if  it is threatening to my positive Self-Concept.  There are two main parts to Self-Concept: Self-Image (how I “see” me) and Self-Esteem (how I “feel” about the pictures.)

As the diagram depicts, words of praise and/or affirmation, pass unimpeded because they are reinforcing -- not threatening to the positive Self-Concept.  Not so with criticism.

NOTE: It is important for us to consider the teaching of many respected behavioral scientists who tell us:  “There is no such thing as “constructive criticism”, these are incompatible terms -- criticism is attack.”

As soon as the recipient of the criticism senses the negative content of the message, pain triggers the defense mechanism and blocks the communication. 

NOTE:  It is also important to know that if the recipient of criticism has low self-esteem, criticism reinforces the low self-worth!


The human brain can only think of (or listen to) one thing at a time.  There is only one auditory nerve from the tympanic membrane to the brain and it can only carry one message at a time.  When fear interrupts the communication process, most people can think of only one thing -- self-preservation and escape and they miss the intended message, which could be very useful to them.  In this scenario only very secure, mature individuals have the ability remain focused on the message.