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No Pain, No Gain—Michael-John Bristow’s Story

July 20, 2010 by Targeted Learning | add new comment

Third Book Blog: In anticipation for our nearing book launch, we find it valuable (and entertaining) to read about the authors personal experience with feedback.

I hate feedback.

At least, that’s how I used to feel. Who wants to go through the pain and hard work of receiving criticism as a gift? Even worse, what kind of lunatic would purposely seek out such painful experiences in order to have more of them?

My point of view has, thankfully, changed. The most helpful feedback I’ve ever received goes back to my earliest memory. It happened in kindergarten, a rather unusual one in which teachers actually graded us and gave us report cards. What I could possibly be graded on at that young age I don’t know, but I remember bringing home report cards for my parents to sign, full of gold stars and smiley-faces.

One day I brought home a report card that was like any other, with one small exception: the teacher had written a note at the bottom. My mom read me that note. It said, “Michael-John is oversensitive.” How did I react to that? Very oversensitively! I cried, ran to my room, slammed my door and didn’t come out for a long, long time. I remember the day that happened literally better than I remember what I had for dinner last night, and that is a good thing. As an adult, my memory of this experience helps me keep my oversensitivity in check (which has had no small impact on my overall ability to receive criticism).

Over the past decade our company, Targeted Learning, has asked thousands of people to describe the most helpful criticism they’ve ever received. Of those, over 75% responded that their initial reaction to that feedback was negative. They reported a range of painful feelings including disappointment, annoyance, sadness, shock, anger and even betrayal.

Because most people in our study reported a negative initial reaction to being given candid feedback, we may wonder how so many of them came to see that criticism as the most helpful of their entire lives. It appears that the gift in feedback is often found not in spite of the pain, but precisely because of it. Paradoxically, it is often the pain in criticism that causes us to reflect on the message long enough to discover the gift in it. The people who should be concerned are not those who feel pain when criticized; rather, it is those who don’t feel much at all.

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