Why I Love and Hate Receiving Critical Feedback5 min read

Every day for 6 months, no matter the occasion, weather outside, or how I was feeling, I sat down at my laptop and worked on my latest book. There were days where everything was clicking, and I walked away with 3000 words in a single sitting. There were other days where that blinking cursor line in Microsoft Word taunted me, daring me to write something, and yet I’d leave my desk with a blank page. This is writing, and it is nothing unusual for anyone who has ever sat down to write something substantial.

Writing is a grind- an unsexy, long, grueling, but also often satisfying grind.

What’s interesting to me is that when I finally had a finished manuscript, 47,900 words to be exact, I thought the bulk of the work was over. I sent it in to my publisher to fix my misplaced commas, spelling errors, and for them to print it inside a pretty cover, and then I would work on launching the book before the release date.

Little did I know; the hard work had just begun. After a couple weeks of editing, my editor sent the book back to me with enough track changes on the document to make me feel like I was in middle school again and I was getting back my red-pen-marked-up essay. Every page was covered in suggested edits, some of them minor, and others recommending I rewrite entire sections. I couldn’t believe it! I thought the work of writing this book was over. Instead, I had hours and hours of revisions in front of me, and throughout every one of them I was confronted with the fact that I am not a perfect writer. The editor’s feedback was real and honest, produced from a critical eye apart from my emotions.

Critical Feedback is About Making Your Work Better

The purpose of the critical feedback was not to boost my ego or praise my work; it was to improve my book. The editor’s goal is to make it the best book it can be and serve the needs of my audience in the best way possible. Therefore the criticism was direct, not harsh, but forward and blunt. When I first started revisions, it was like a boxing match where my hands were tied at my sides.

“How can they not like this paragraph?”

“What do you mean you don’t like this anecdote? I spent hours thinking of that?”

“I used an exclamation point on purpose, thank you very much!”

However, the more I read the suggested edits, the more I realized they were absolutely accurate. The first draft was good, but it wasn’t great. There were still plenty of opportunities for it to improve and for my writing and ideas to be strengthened. I quickly learned that the work was not over, and as far as my writing goes, it may never be. There will always be room for improvement.

I Hate Receiving Critical Feedback

I’m going to be 100% honest; I hate receiving critical feedback. It feels like a punch to the gut. No matter how kind someone is when they deliver it, I can’t help but take it personal. Whether it is feedback from a blog post reader, someone leaving a comment on a Facebook video, an evaluation from a keynote I presented, or suggested edits from a professional editor- getting constructive criticism is rarely fun. And yet, I never turn away from it. It’s too valuable, too important if I want to grow and succeed.

I think there is this notion that we have to learn to embrace criticism with open arms and relish having our worked reviewed and judged. However, I don’t think that is really possible. I don’t believe honest critical feedback ever feels good, especially if it is critiquing something you gave your best effort toward. But just because it is not pleasant, doesn’t mean we should not be open to it.

I’ve learned more and more to deal with the bitter taste of constructive criticism and seek out opportunities for others to give it to me. Not because I’m a masochist, but because I know it is necessary. Our work needs honesty. It needs people with a critical eye to evaluate it, poke and prod it and give suggestions for its improvement. This is why my book that I thought took 6 months to write is actually taking closer to 8. It’s why I read session surveys at conferences, book reviews on Amazon, and ask my students for evaluations of me at the end of every semester.

Critical feedback is not fun, but it is essential. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, other type of professional, or really just a person who wants to improve, you need to open yourself up to criticism. Hopefully those giving it know how to deliver it gracefully to take some of the edge off, but if it’s honest, there needs to be some edge to it.

But take heart; the hottest fires forge the hardest steel.

For more on giving and receiving strong critical feedback, check out my latest book, “The Collaborative Classroom.”
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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.