Often times when we receive constructive criticism, we take it to the heart and our belief is that our ideas, actions and opinions are under attack. However, constructive criticism is meant to help us and educate us on a potentially better way to approach a situation or solve a problem. So why is it that our brain immediately thinks we are being judged and we have to fight to protect ourself?
Taking Constructive Criticism
When I was a teacher I had to learn to take constructive criticism and learn from it. Did I love every single piece of feedback I received? No. I also took every piece of feedback PERSONALLY in the beginning and boy how that effected my mental health. I had to learn that my principal, boss or even colleague was not attacking me. In fact, they were trying to help me provide me with more tools to help me become a better teacher.
I needed to take a step back and learn how to listen to what the person was saying before reacting. So I broke it down into why they said it. Was it to help maintain a safety measure in the classroom? Was it a tool to help a child have a more successful experience? Maybe it was something that I didn’t even realize I needed guidance in.
I also learned that constructive criticism can lead to a conversation. At no point did my principal give me constructive criticism and walk away. In fact, most of the time we would be able to talk about the why behind what she was saying. Let’s also be clear that I didn’t have to follow every piece of constructive advice she gave me. I did have to ponder why she said it, who it would benefit and how much effort it would really take me to implement the idea.
I also learned that sometimes I needed to hear the advice and take a moment to myself and then reassess. Sometimes we immediately think something is going to be too much effort and that’s also why we fight the constructive criticism.
Receiving Constructive Criticism
I have two examples of people receiving constructive criticism. Two very different scenarios. I want you to read each one twice. The first time, imagine you are the person receiving the feedback. Then read it again, but put yourself in the place of the person giving feedback.
Example 1: A teacher was leading a meeting and talking about the days of the week using the calendar on the wall while being observed by the principal. The teacher was sitting on a chair and the children were sitting along the edge of the carpet. A table was hiding part of the calendar and some children were unable to see it. During the observation debrief the director mentioned possibly moving the calendar so that all children would be able to see it.
Example 2: I was on TikTok the other day and someone responded to a video of a beagle riding in the car with its front two paws hanging on the outside of the car door and its entire head out of the window. There was a comment from a professional dog trainer saying for the safety of the dog and human a dog should either be in a crate or have a certified crash tested seatbelt.
In the scenarios above, both people that received constructive criticism did NOT appreciate the advice. As a witness to the first example, I can attest that the teacher did not move the calendar for the entire year. These are two very different examples one about safety and one about accessibility. So why did they react this way?
Reacting to Constructive Criticism
I kept wondering if a friend mentioned the placement of the calendar or said the dog should have a seat belt, if it would have made a difference? I personally don’t think so. I think on some level we were never taught how to take constructive criticism. How it isn’t an attack on us as individuals, but more of a way to either help make us safer, wiser, or even just to help us grow.
Maybe if in elementary school we were taught how to take constructive criticism and understand the meaning behind it, it would have helped us as adults. We could have had a better understanding that constructive criticism is different than just criticism. Imagine where we would all be if we were able to hear each other out and talk about the suggestions instead of becoming defensive. We would all be growing and learning from one another and creating a safer and more intellectual world.
All this being said, I am not perfect at taking constructive criticism either. I am constantly learning about how I respond to constructive criticism and how to approach it in a way that helps me understand where the person is coming from and what I take away from it.
Constructive Criticism Thoughts?
I’m curious what your thoughts are on constructive criticism. If you care to share a story about a time you received constructive criticism that benefited you please feel free to share it in the comment section!