For Instructors

Constructive Feedback

 

I can guarantee without knowing any of you personally if I asked you the question:

 

Is constructive feedback a good thing?

 

I'm pretty sure I would struggle to find anybody that would say no. We all rationally and logically understand that in order to improve, move forward and grow we need feedback to then make the necessary changes.

Right? Right!

 

Okay then let me ask you this next question:

How happy are you when somebody gives you this 'constructive' feedback?

 

Are you jumping with joy that they have found flaws and faults in your approach, delivery, communication, attire or whatever else it may be?

Maybe now you are not so happy anymore?

Yes we know we all need it - but how conditioned and good are we at receiving it?

 

I definitely think there are some people that are better than others. If you think you’re not the most receptive then let me assure you there could be logical reasons why. Yes you could have viable reasons to be less than joyous with the news that you are in actuality not perfect after all. That is may not be because you are unapproachable, defiant and not receptive to change…that’s not us EVER!

 

Moving forward let us review some reasons why sometimes we are not feeling the ‘constructive’ in the feedback….

- The method or manner it was given; it may feel aggressive or hostile

- Your state of mind at the time; when your mood is grey therefore your perception of the content is distorted

- The person delivering it; you possibly don't believe they have the knowledge or education or their intention is honorable  

- The timing that it was delivered; possibly in front of other people as a public display

- Or simply you think you are wonderful and nobody could ever fault you ever! ...(NB. This last one is a joke just in case any of you are saying - Hell yeah!)

 

Regardless of your industry, profession, age or gender we all need to learn to be receptive to feedback and to listen to the message objectively. We need to do our best to remove any emotion to what could feel like criticism and rationally understand it is a means of personal and or professional growth and development.

 

I am going to admit, much to my shame to declare in this public forum - I am not the greatest with feedback.

 

Allow me to start by highlighting when someone says they have ‘feedback’ it is often just code for ‘somebody somewhere thinks you can do better’. If somebody wants to praise you they would say – ‘We've had positive feedback, or people loved your work or class’.

 

On the other hand if it is not positive feedback it is just stand alone 'feedback'. Sometimes to soften the blow it is labeled ‘constructive feedback’ to attempt to disarm you before they tell you what it is. Somehow it is thought if the preceding word is ‘constructive’ then you somehow will not feel like you suck as much when they tell you the nature of feedback.

 

I am a confessed perfectionist and I spend most of my life constantly checking, double-checking and triple checking the things I do because for my own twisted sense of right. 100% is the absolute minimum for my effort or work.  If at anytime or for whatever reason I am forced to present anything that does not live up to my own impossible expectation, goodness help me! It is often followed by a few bad nights sleep and I vow to myself - never again will I have fail myself so badly! A playlist for a ride that didn't quite work, a run that I couldn't finish because I was too tired, an article that just doesn't have the zing that I'd like or one of my worst hates lately is a spelling error in a Facebook post!!! Arghhh!!! NOOOO!!!!

 

Due to this ridiculously high expectation I place on myself when I do anything I feel like a little kid waiting for a pat on the head from the grown up saying 'Good job kiddo!’ then I can go play happy and content with my day.

 

I am sure this mental image could be psychoanalyzed. Maybe I wasn't praised enough as a kid or possibly had a parent that didn't praise at all. Whatever the reason this is part of my character now. As adults we all have our unique characteristics based on our upbringing and combinations of nature and nurture that carry us through our adult lives.

 

When I receive 'constructive feedback’ (which we have established is never anything that is praise) it tells me my crazy standard is not crazy enough! Somehow even with my triple checking in somebody else’s version I have not done the job at a standard high enough.  

 

Let me say that my reaction is not aggression or argumentative. I guess I’d express it as deflated. I get this sick feeling in my stomach – a mixture of sadness and adrenalin. Like my body isn’t sure if it wants to cry or fight. On the inside I have a big sad face and droopy shoulders but on the outside I smile and nod and politely say:

 

 ‘Yes, yes, I understand…. Yes I see. I can do that – Absolutely – yes no worries at all – Thank you so much for letting me know....”


And I am logically much happier to know but in that emotional split second of the moment when the bomb is dropped on the inside the little kid in me his crying with her head in her hands. I know it sounds a little dramatic and possibly even pathetic but that’s the image that comes to mind. When I was younger that was possibly the person I was on the outside too. Fortunately though I have learnt to make sure the defeated little girl does not appear on the surface.

 

So the both of us take ourselves away. Take some time together and I comfort her. I tell her that she is not a terrible person and that together (when she stops crying) we can work through it and that when she feels better she we see that this is her opportunity to try again and she will be wiser, stronger and better for it. Most importantly that nobody will judge her think any less of her for not being perfect.

 

Ironically (or not) I have a teenage daughter who is also that little girl.  She is an overachiever, stresses and frets about schoolwork and everything needs to be super perfect but torments herself in the process. Now am I not only trying to teach her how to receive feedback positively but also I'm coaching my inner child as well.

 

I don't think it's all bad to be a little sensitive about receiving information that in another persons opinion we are not doing the job as well as they think we should. It means that we care about what we are doing. But we also need to learn to control that sensitivity so we can understand and listen to the message so we can improve.

 

Secondly we need to control that negative and extremely destructive self-talk that I believe many of us say to ourselves. We are not hopeless, our class's are not all crap, and we are not stupid, useless or whatever other terrible things we may say when we are in a negative spiral.

 

We are however amazing and wonderful human beings on the very special adventurous and educational ride called life. Nobody is perfect and all of us need to make mistakes to learn, grow and remember.

 

Today I received some ‘constructive feedback’ and I held the hand of the little girl inside and together we sat on the step took a deep breath and listened quietly, listening to the message and removing emotion. We are both okay. Not as many tears from the little one this time.

 

Maybe we are actually getting better a little better at realizing we don't have to be perfect after all! J

 

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