Can’t Take the Heat? Get out of the Board Room

February 10, 2011 at 7:34 am | Posted in Career Moves | 8 Comments
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As I may have mentioned in passing, I work for an organization focused on preparing high school students for college and career success. So every so often I actually get to see what we preach in action.  This week, I was invited to attend and judge presentations students were making in order to recruit other students to attend events.  As a communications pro, I’ve done many a presentation and of course have studied the art of presenting through sources including Andy Goodman’s Why Good Presentations Happen to Bad Causes. Public speaking is certainly an important skill for anyone to learn and the fact that these kids have real business people to provide feedback certainly gives them the edge.

So some of the presentations were pretty good, and some could use improvement.  But what really surprised me was the students’ capacity to take criticism.  There was one girl in particular who had something to say about everyone’s work.  She said it tastefully for the most part, but many people would still have taken it as a personal offense.  Not these kids. These kids were handled it with poise and grace.

In my career, I have had my work torn apart time and time again.  I used to have my emails edited before I contacted clients.  I’ve had articles come out completely unrecognizable on the other side of the editing process.  In college, when I got my work critiqued, it got to the point where I would give up on pieces where there seemed to be no end to the editing process.  I have learned in my career how to take criticism.  I know many who haven’t.

The problem with not being able to take criticism is that you will never get better.  You think that you know everything and that’s it.  You can’t learn from others and thus, you can’t really teach anyone anything.  You become a non-expert and can even become obsolete.

I have worked with all different types of people – inspiring people that you want to learn from, tough bosses, people who don’t really get what you do, slow learners, fast learners.  But it is the people who whine that get me the most.  I just don’t get it.  You never see whiners become CEOs, even if they whine their way into getting a promotion.  It just doesn’t happen.

Let me be clear in saying that there have been times in my professional career where I have gotten emotional over criticism.  It happened once recently and it was because I felt as though my toes were being stepped on and it was out of the blue so I wasn’t prepared.  But I don’t get upset when someone critiques my work (unless I know they have no idea what they are talking about).

The important thing to remember is that they are critiquing your work and not you.  Just because you completed an assignment that wasn’t up to par with the standards set forth doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to happy hour with you.  We’re adults. Let’s deal with this like adults.  If a bunch of high school kids can, can’t we?


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  1. amen, sista.
    I will say this, being in art trained the shit out of me for accepting/ giving criticism. It was amazing how in my 3rd year of school, I made one, invited, open comment (the dude asked me what I thought!) about a dvd he’d made of one of my dance performances.. and the dude did NOT TALK TO ME for the rest of college. so friggin ridiculous, though it hit me that he’d probably never, EVER experienced constructive criticism in his life despite being in a prestigious environment, offering him plenty of opportunities to practice.
    It’s certainly not easy, and you’re definitely right.. .it’s not about us, it’s about the work. There’s a fine line between being honest, and just being plain rude. I remember someone saying that their “tough love” was “going to give me the motivation to do better”. HA! Somehow that ruling negated the fact that they decided to rip me apart? mm mm, not so. I think everyone could benefit from sitting through 10 (yep, just 10) critiques in their life and somehow, train to positively push forth (even with the negative feedback). So glad you got to do this with the high school kids, hun!

    • well said. In the arts, in particular, where so much of it is subjective, it is hard to take criticism, but it really does make you a better and stronger person.

  2. Hey there, I found your blog through Joelle’s Happy Hour blog party. Thanks for your comments on my blog 🙂

    I think if people were put under such critical scrutiny from a slightly younger age, such as your high school kids, then perhaps we as adults would be much more able to cope with the demands of our grown up work. We never improve until we are told where we are going wrong! In my last job, a colleague of mine regularly threw temper tantrums after our weekly coaching sessions and it led to HR being involved because he was adament our team leader was picking on him…after asking us he realised she was doing the same to us all, but the difference was that we could see what she was saying was just constructive criticism and not a personal attack. He seemed to have a very hard time seperating the two, and it led to an awful lot of unneeded stress and hasstle on both him and the team leader.

    • I can’t imagine having a temper tantrum at work. So unnecessary!

  3. hey there! i love that you stated, “critiquing your work and not you.” i think we go round and round circles beating ourselves up sometimes. btw, i’m from the happy hour blog hop by love is home. love your blog.

  4. I am all for criticism. I think it should be something teenagers need to be adjusted to. I went to some pretty liberal schools, we didn’t sit around, play guitar and sing our feelings, but everything was done with sugar coating (my fave.) It wasn’t till highschool that we had our first critiques. Hard at first, but i’m so glad I got them. College, was just an endless erray of critiquing.

    BUT, I have a serious problem with people pointing out problems, that were either uncalled for, or, for the sake of pointing out something bad, without the reason to help them improve themselves, but merely to make them look bad. I think people do this… A LOT. Way too much. More than they actually think they do. We all have to find a way to stay in the light, but I hate watching it happen and even worse, being part of it. All the person can do, is take it with stride and show some tact. Otherwise, there is a messy arguement a’brew’n. And you can tell who is just saying it to be a pr*** 🙂

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