Accepting Constructive Criticism – Be REMARKABLE! (a word to competitors)

Caution Constructive Criticism imagesHere’s what we know…

Very few of us enjoy being criticized. We are easily inflamed when blamed or shamed. Of course we are. Even the concept of “constructive criticism” sounds suspicious at best. We wonder how receiving a judgment, assessment, or critical remark can actually be ‘constructive.’ We are inclined to believe criticism will be painful; we doubt that it will be profitable.

But here’s an insight from Seth Godin, business guru and best-selling author who accurately describes the human condition in his book Tribes.

“Fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. Why? What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism. We choose not to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice, or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.”  

For the past 15 years as a speech coach, I have watched hundreds of tweens and teens step into competition rooms where they know that their speeches will be compared to those of the last/next speakers. Remarkable. What a feat! I have the highest regard for these young people. Few adults could survive this rigor. So how should we encourage competitors to endure the countless critiques and evaluations that they will receive this year? How can we help them flourish, not flounder as they are subjected to ongoing criticism?

The most remarkable success that any of us can achieve will come once we realize the value of insightful feedback. It is rare that humans avail themselves of it because of the fears and sensitivity that we have already discussed. But here’s what we know…

The frail and fragile will run from criticism; the fierce will face and embrace it.

Of course, accepting criticism never means that we should feel obligated to please every critic, but it does mean that the more we are able to consider the insights of others, while seeking to build our own skills and sharpen our instincts, the more we will find criticism to be truly constructive.  Typically I have seen novice competitors lament, “Shucks. I blew it;” conversely, varsity champions implore, “How do I get better?” And without exception, those who are receptive to constructive criticism get better faster, much faster.

So, a word to speakers who want to gain more success in competition, to those who want to achieve greater success in life; and to those who truly desire to be heard, understood, and remembered in all communication endeavors – embrace the feedback you receive.

Here are specific steps I recommend:

  1. Write down the comments that coaches and parents offer during club meetings. This process will help you listen to and remember what has been said in a critique session. It will also show that you value the recommendations of those who are taking time to listen to you. This builds good will and respect between both parties.
  2. After a tournament, read your ballots carefully and make a list of what the judges liked most as well as the specific suggestions that they give for improvement. Then choose to make an honest effort to enhance those elements they liked and work hard to incorporate the ideas that they propose to make things better.
  3. Do your best to respond; not react. In the world of competitive speech and debate, your judges are actually rooting for you and are usually quite impressed by your dedication to this sport. Coaches and alumni similarly wish for your best success. Nevertheless, some criticism may feel hurtful along the way. Try to respond to the underlying good intentions rather than react defensively to the criticism.

Also know this. There will certainly be times when constructive comments will conflict, and one ballot may contradict another, but that is not a reason to dismiss the advice altogether. Figure it out. Experiment. Do what you can to use suggestions that sound reasonable. After all, communication is always a two-way street. It’s about connecting with those who hear us. Therefore, it is essential to consider what our listeners have to tell us.

Here’s what Seth Godin goes on to say as he describes times when his books are reviewed by critics:

One bad review doesn’t ruin my day because I realize what a badge of honor it is to get a bit of criticism at all.”  He encourages us to consider, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing the thing worth doing. Being remarkable is exciting, fun, profitable, and great for your career. Feeling bad wears off.” [Tribes, 41.]

The first step in becoming remarkable may just be opening our hearts and souls to the suggestions of others. Try it.

Don’t freak. Just seek to peak as you’re critiqued.

And stay tuned for Part 2 of this post.  (How to Give Criticism Effectively – a word to parents and coaches!)