Seeking out constructive criticism

It’s a pretty simple concept; if you want to suck less & improve faster at anything, you need to seek out constructive criticism.

I work almost exclusively alongside high school kids with learning difficulties. As a teacher, I’ve observed in even the most profoundly challenged kids and their ability to improve their learning and find success. They do so in the same way that any of us would; by making mistakes in a low risk environment and receiving feedback on their performance so that they can do better next time. Many of the kids I have worked with are very aware that they have challenges other students don’t but are often more determined to learn despite this. The ones who go on to find the most success are also the ones who actively seek out constructive criticism. No matter how ‘harsh’ the feedback is, they are able to look at it objectively, reflect on it and move forward with better results in the future.

One thing I observe on a daily basis is fully competent adults failing to seek out constructive criticism. More often than not, it’s not because the person doesn’t know how to ask for feedback, but that they don’t want to hear it.

In the workplace and in the training room I see people repeatedly undertaking behaviors that lead to failure, only to bemoan their failures; not realizing that their actions guarantee the same unsuccessful result. If I walk into a wall and hurt my face, do I walk into that same wall again expecting a different result?

I suppose this is turning into a bit of a rant, but my patience wears thin when fully capable people fail to engage with learning when even a child is capable of doing so. To me, it’s a symptom of the misguided narratives a lot of people tell themselves. The truth of a matter is not subjective; something we can spin into a comfortable excuse that protects us from harsh realities. The truth is objective; it is what it is and a person needs to approach harsh realities with accountability and honesty.

While I’m touching on this topic, I also have an issue with the “Win or Learn” mentality. Win or lose, you have the potential to learn, but it is not guaranteed. Failure does not immediately correlate with “learning”.

I’ve heard teachers and coaches give the “Oh, it’s okay. At least you tried your best.” in the face of their students’ failures many times, but cushioning harsh truths with a soft stroke of the ego is not the answer. I don’t even do this with young school students, never mind adults. I’ve seen countless people fail and proceed to change nothing (or seek no constructive criticism) to correct the behavior that lead them to their failure in the first place.

We need to be prepared to be told things we don’t like or may not want to hear. Don’t avoid feedback because hearing that you fucked up makes you feel bad, because you should feel bad. Feeling bad is a sign that you are not satisfied with your performance.

Entrench yourself in a place with a culture of honesty, where your coaches and peers will tell you the truth rather than gently tip-toeing around the flaws, telling you “it’s okay” rather than being objective enough to give you the helpful advice you need to improve.

Thanks for reading.



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