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Embrace Constructive Criticism

I struggle accepting constructive criticism.

No matter how much I try not to get defensive, the moment I receive suggestions for improvement my protective shields go up.

​Two summers I asked our leadership team for feedback on a project I had been working on for weeks. Although I encouraged comments, I didn't think anyone would respond. So I was surprised when two instructional coaches took me up on the offer.

When we met, the employees provided several ideas for improving the project. On the outside, I was nodding my head and smiling. But on the inside, I was telling myself, "Do they realize how much time I have put into this project? If you think you can do better ... go ahead!"

As we finished I (reluctantly) told the instructional coaches I appreciated their feedback. When they left, my feelings were hurt. Despite my efforts, they indicated the entire document needed to be revamped.

I felt like a failure.

However, I was reminded of a quote from the book Principles by Ray Dalio which reads: "Accurate criticism is the most valuable feedback you can receive."

It took a week until I was mentally prepared to re-engage with the project. When I did, I realized the criticism was spot-on. The two employees were veterans of the district, and understood what would resonate with our stakeholders. I followed their advice and re-created the document.

It took some time, but the finished product was outstanding.

Later I sent a follow-up email to both employees thanking them for having the courage to share their ideas. I told them this served as a great learning experience, and admitted that a high-quality project was more important than a bruised ego.


Fighting the urge to push back on criticism is incredibly difficult.

In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott suggests, “When you receive criticism whatever you do, don’t start criticizing the criticism. Don’t start telling the other person they are wrong! ... You’ll feel a strong urge to act defensively or at least explain yourself. This is natural, but it pretty much will kill any chance you’ll get criticism from that person again.”

Prideful leaders who shut down criticism will discover their employees no longer share feedback. Humble leaders who embrace criticism will discover their employees can provide great advice.

As much as it hurts, accurate criticism is often the best feedback.


Looking for a great book about embracing criticism? Consider reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.



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