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Being Critical

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Criticism and feedback are an important way we improve. But it's not always easy to hear that you need improvement. Most of us like to think we do things well.
How do you deal with criticism? Do you deny it or think about it when given to you?
How do you feel if you get no feedback or criticism?

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Cordial greetings @Judith,

Interesting what you give us about criticism, i also agree on that aspect, the constructive development can come from a constructive criticism.

In my case wanting to answer those good questions, i face the criticism regarding the situation or issue that we are addressing, i can interpret that this is done when a person analyzes your point of view and takes it as much to the reality of things as to his way of thinking, so for me i handle it very well and in the best possible.
Also i know that if they tell me a criticism is because they want me to continue for a better.

When i get a criticism, i usually respect it and based on my capacity for reasoning, i decide if it's good to accept or omit it.

This third question is very curious, because in the world of technology, that everything can be written immediately, not receiving comments when creating a publication, doesn't mean that it's not seen or accepted, it could be said that can be prudency just reading, so it's understandable and my way of feeling, and with the fact of making a publication i feel good.

For me being critical contributes to improvement the quality of thinking and analysis for understanding.

It’s good to see you here @Luis Gerardo Ayala B. . I also agree that being critical improves your thinking and understanding, but when I was much younger I remember feeling hurt when I was criticized. I would disagree and not accept that I could be wrong. I am glad to be older and welcome the kind of criticism that helps you to become better.
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Thank you @Judith for starting such a meaningful thread once again, relevant to all of us.
Without getting feedback and constructive criticism, how can we all improve? So, I too do welcome constructive and relevant criticism as @Luis Gerardo Ayala B. said. However, I am also aware that sometimes if people, especially authority figures, have control issues, or if they do not wish to admit their own mistakes, they just say things that may not be relevant for the sake of saying, or sometimes to cover their own mistakes, which could be damaging to relatively inexperienced or younger people around them.

If we receive feedback or criticism, I think it’s always good to ask questions like “is this really true?,” “does this really apply to me?.” If it does, then, of course, by all means ask “what can I do to make it better?” type of question if it’s not already in the feedback. If in doubt, then one may go back to the person who gave you the criticism and discuss the details where possible and applicable. If that does not lead anywhere, one can try and find experts in the area of criticism, depending on how important the topic was, of course, if it’s worth your time, and get other opinions. See if others, whose opinions you trust, agree with what they say. One can also try to find published articles on the issue to backup statements either from critics point of view or your own opinion where possible and relevant as well. Then if there is a misunderstanding or misinformation anywhere, one can at least help the critic and to yourself to learn more on the topic.

What do you all think? Any other ideas?
@Denise , you raise a most important point. What if the feedback you are given isn’t true? It’s just another person’s opinion, after all. It could have devastating effects on people.As a result, he or she might shut down and give up. I have seen this in the arts especially where someone is told they have no talent, they can’t sing or draw a picture. Years ago, the community manager before Claire, Amy shared such a story with us. When I told her I played clarinet she said she once did, but her teacher wasn’t encouraging and made her not feel good about it so she quit. It’s often a fine line between giving good feedback and having it interpreted well. Just yesterday I saw someone sprinkling his lawn having just reseeded it. The sprinkler was missing the newly planted grass. It needed to be moved. Should I say something or just mind my own business? Giving feedback and being critical can be taken the wrong way.What would you have done?

There are some people who can never accept negative feedback or any kind of criticism. Do we avoid expressing how we feel to them?

if someone criticizes your assignment or gives you negative feedback, do you think about it first or do you usually reject it? When I was younger I rejected criticism or always rationalized why I was right. I have learned much since then. Mostly, I learned to try to understand why someone would feel as they do about what I wrote for example. Was I unclear? Were my intentions misunderstood? It’s always good to revaluate yourself, and as you said, discuss it further.
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It may not just be another person’s opinion @Judith , depending on the topic or subject area... In science courses or certain other topics, the feedback is supposed to be factual, which is a lot easier to check if it’s true through publications and/or well established experts. However, yes, when it comes to arts, one has to be extra careful as you highlighted. It is so sad that Amy ended up giving up on clarinet.

This kind of problem was also portrayed in the new movie on Vincent Van Gogh’s true life story ( ). He was heavily criticized by many, especially about painting nature. Who would have thought, anyone would pick on that?!! Furthermore, his best friend Paul Gaugin picked on his brushing style to my disappointment... His brushing style is the very essence indeed, what makes Van Gogh, Van Gogh, bringing his paintings to life! I had the sense perhaps Gauguin might have been a bit jealous of Van Gogh... Such undeserved rejection from his best and most respected friend really drove Van Gogh into depression further, which was emphasized in the movie. It was so sad to see...

I think it’s a good idea to get other opinions in such situations because at times even some experts can be wrong as demonstrated by Gauguin, especially before making important decisions like “quitting” a career choice or education path or something you may be passionate about. I guess most people know the incredible Albert Einstein story ( ), whose so called expert teachers thought he was stupid...

Re: sprinklers on the lawn: I’m not an expert gardener to advice on this 🙂 but this looks like factual information. So, if you are sure that your neighbor would benefit from your advice then I would definitely find a way to let them know in a tactful manner, of course... ;)

We need to be tactful, while giving negative feedback rather than not giving at all, which may be easier said than done, of course, depending on the person. As you know our Coursera Mentor Training Course has some good tips on how to give feedback without hurting someone, thanks to @Claire ’s tireless efforts. If you remember the other Coursera course we were recommended to beta test “Becoming a Learning Facilitator” when Afshan was around as our manager: there were very good examples of “good feedback” versus “bad feedback” throughout the course. The good ones were encouraging, highlighting the positive points while slipping in the negative parts that need improving, without crushing the student’s spirit. I think I would try such approaches rather than avoiding to say anything where necessary.

My approach for the assignments are similar: In my subject areas, they have been factual mostly, so it has been easier to evaluate whether they were true or not. If they were applicable, then I would happily accept it and make the necessary changes. If in doubt, I would go and discuss with them and/or get other opinions, show them relevant publications where necessary.

In a couple of Coursera course assignments, in its earlier days, I had received unfair criticism and marking. In one occasion, the reviewer had missed on the information because I had used my own words rather than using the exact same words as in the course material. In another one, the comment was just not applicable at all. I notified the staff in the discussion forums for both of those. They looked and regraded my assignments. The person who gave the inapplicable comment was apparently doing it to all other students as well. So, they actually gave him a warning and regraded all the assignments he had graded. The professors also wrote in the forums about being more careful and generous during the assignments grading.

This was, of course, in the early days of Coursera when the staff was more available and when it was not possible to resubmit assignments. Nowadays, people just resubmit their assignments. Due to those experiences though, many develop habits of using only the Coursera course material wording in their Coursera course assignments, making them very obvious that their assignments are following the rubric. In real life or university courses, this is not recommended since one may not be using their own personal creativity in their assignments that way but in Coursera one can manage to avoid unfair grading by such a method... 😉
@Denise I forgot I was talking to a scientist, 😀. Most of the courses I have been involved with have had assignments that could be misinterpreted. For example, in the Mentor Training Course, you are asked to write a rude response. What someone thinks as rude someone else might think not rude enough. It can become quite subjective.

The illustration you gave of Van Gogh is excellent. If you closest friend doesn’t show you appreciation at times, but only criticisms then it would most certainly lead to depression.

In order to seek other opinions you need to be quite self assured. Many people just sadly accept the negative feedback and move on. They don’t think to ask others or research materials. It’s good to be reminded that this is always an option.
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Yes, that’s so true @Judith , certain topics can be subjective, especially with everyone coming from different backgrounds. Even scientists, doctors, other experts may not agree on everything. This is why, I think everyone should be encouraged to seek many different opinions when necessary rather than accepting just one opinion, whether negative or positive.

What may look normal to someone, may be rude to other one as it was nicely evaluated in that assignment you mentioned. In a multicultural platform like Coursera, we all need to be a lot more considered. Even the most successful people can be fragile deep down, which was also wonderfully portrayed in another movie called “Amadeus” based on Mozart’s true life story ( ) . Despite all of his success and talent, he still cared for approval of others, particularly his father, the emperor and the emperor’s advisers. In the absence of those, he kind of went into some melancholy and he spiraled down from there...

I came across these two litmus tests on talking guidelines to help us watching our mouths in some books in the past, which would go well for giving and receiving criticism/feedback as well, I think:

Before you say something, ask yourself:

1- Is this need to be said?
2- Is this need to be said by me?
3- Is this need to be said by me now?

Another one is the acronymTHINK:

Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?

I hope these may help you all too. If others have more tips on this topic, I would love to hear them as well.

@Denise , these are wonderful tips, thank you.

I have seen Amadeus and think that most of us are like this.We care about what others think about us. This is something to always remember when dealing with people. a young teacher it was quite the challenge , trying to get every student to like me! LOL!
I had to realize that my job was to help a student find success not to be their favorite teacher. At times I had to be demanding and push students to work to their potential. The rewards came much later when students realized their accomplishments. Perhaps this is why I am a tough assignment grader here? I want everyone to do his or her best, to think carefully and produce success with pride. But it needs to happen sensitively which creates the challenge.
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Wow, I can imagine how challenging it might be as a teacher to get everyone like you @Judith . I read in some place that on average 15% of the people you interact with will never like you no matter what you do. I am not sure how they came up with that number but they were advising to quit trying to win everyone in your life, just focus on getting on with what's important in your life.

As I was trying to find a link for it, I came across this article titled: If Everybody Likes You, You are Doing it Wrong . They mention it as 85% rule: If about 85 percent of the people you meet like you, you are probably doing something right. In contrast, if much more than 85 percent of the people you meet like you, you are probably doing too much to get along.

I am not sure of these numbers or rules but the article has some relevant tips and advice as well. As you say if we are sensitive and kind in our interactions then hopefully it will work out OK. I had read somewhere a while ago that people may not remember what you say or do after some time but they always remember how you make them feel. That's something I try to bear in mind...
Thank you so much for this most interesting information @Denise . If I only knew this 40 years ago it would have saved me years of frustration, 😀.
Teachers were once told never to smile for at least the first month of school. They were supposed to instill fear and unpleasant consequences if students didn’t work well. It was believed that this was how you dealt with class discipline. I never agreed with that and always made sure everyone felt comfortable, within the structure of my class. There were specific expectations to follow with specific consequences for non compliance. I learned that it’s okay for an occasional student to need a consequence even if it meant I wouldn’t be “liked” any more. What happened was really amazing....after years of teaching my “reputation “ proceeded me and I never had to even discuss the what ifs you misbehave or don’t try your hardest...we could get right down to finding success.
People forgive you if they know you well to understand you have their best interests at heart. We all have off days and that occasional misstep will be understood. This goes along with your wise words to us about people remembering how you make them feel. This is something we should all remember here too.
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Never smile?!! Oh No! I hope not many teachers obeyed that rule... I am glad that things in schools have been improving over the years. 🙂 I am sure you were an excellent teacher to your students @Judith .

Thank you for the compliment but those wise words were not my original though. I saw it in a teaching material during one of my counselor training sessions in the context of Alzheimer's disease patients. It is scientifically proven:

I totally agree on remembering it... 🙂
@Denise , only a year ago someone in the education asked about should teachers smile their first month of class and a most heated debate ensured! I was surprised at how many young teachers felt they still needed to not smile. There is wisdom in being especially strict at first, you can always loosen up, but if you allow students to not function then it will be challenging to change that.

You still deserve the compliment for calling this to our attention! 😀
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Oh no, that's so disappointing to hear @Judith . No wonder depression and suicide rates are on the rise among teens nowadays. I just hope they manage to find alternative wise ways to keep students under control...

Thanks so much for my continued compliment. 😊