3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Challenging Others

One of the benefits I have of being in education is having an older brother that is heavily involved in the field as well. His feedback to me in the past has been some of the harshest that I have ever received from anyone with little or no filter.  Sometimes it hurts, but it always makes me think and grow.  But there is one thing I know while receiving the feedback; he has my back.

The best mentors I have had in my career have challenged me the most, but I always knew that they were supporting me to grow.  That is what made them special.

I write this because I have noticed this pushback to being positive and relating it to being adverse to criticism.  I have especially noticed it when I post this quote:

The quote came out of a very specific story and I have shared the context often.

But this quote isn’t meant to have people “shun” criticism. It is intended to focus on finding pathways where there are often obstacles.  Criticism is part of the process and challenge is necessary for us to grow as individuals and organizations.

How we criticize is important, especially in education.  If a student only hears what they do wrong, yet do not feel valued, would that promote or stagnate growth? Adults are no different.  I know that sometimes criticism I receive, which may be potentially valuable, is lost in the tone of the messaging, or even the messenger. If the only time I hear from someone, especially online, is to criticize me, it feels like it is more about “beating me” rather than finding solutions to move forward.

I have been guilty of this myself and continued to get better.  The people that I am closest to know that I will challenge them, but they understand why.

One of the moments that has shaped my thinking on this is an incident where I was focusing only on negative aspects of someone’s presentation at a conference and feeling that I was making things better by showing “the right way.” Later that evening, I was invited to a dinner where that same person was also invited. I remember seeing the hurt in their demeanor and knowing I was the direct cause because A) I had no connection with the person and B) I was more focused on looking good myself rather than helping that person grow. If I genuinely wanted the presenter to grow, I would have delivered my feedback in a much different manner. It made me realize that I always need to assume that input provided online has to be done in a way that is much different than in person, especially when we do not have a relationship, because we are not privy to the effects we have on a person on the other side of the screen.

(PS…I am good friends with the same person now, and we challenge each other often.  The relationship is there and that matters.)

These are some things I think about when I want to challenge the thinking of someone online as well as in person:

  1. Do I have any type of connection as human beings other than this initial interaction and do they know their contributions are valued?
  2. Do I ever connect with this person to say something positive or do I only share feedback with others (or specific people) when it is negative?
  3. Am I open to being challenged and critiqued in the same manner in which I am ready to deliver?

The above three questions are ONLY valid if the answers are genuine and authentic. For example, throwing in an arbitrary and inauthentic compliment with the sole focus of delivering criticism but to “soften the blow” probably won’t lead to growth in the person or the idea.

I focus on relationships so often in my work not because I am only focused on the positive, but I know that if you build the relationship, how challenge and criticism are perceived is more likely to aid in the development of others.  Yes, you can learn from people where you don’t have a positive relationship, but I feel that growth is extremely limited.

The message can be lost in the delivery.  If your hope (and mine) is to help someone grow than be willing to put in the time to that person where they know their contributions and work are appreciated.

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