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The value of harsh criticism

I know how big brands feel this last week.

Having just started teaching again, until April, I taught my first CR class seven days ago.

From around 50 students, eight or so emailed me over the last few days and said they liked the first lecture. That was nice to hear.

One though, emailed me and told me she thought I was “rude, arrogant, demotivating and sarcastic” in my lecture, and in a follow up email asking students to arrive on time in future.

My immediate reaction was of disbelief (sound familiar, big brands?) then amusement, then annoyance, then defensiveness, and then mild anger.

Having calmed down, two things occured:

1) Going through the above process was a useful experience. Analysing the emotions, working out which was justified, which was not. Working out a response that I felt I could live with later was a helpful exercise, and humbling.

2) There’s always something to learn from criticism. The words, perhaps a little harsh, made me think: What could I learn from this? How could I improve?

The student involved apologised to me tonight, but made the point that an email I had sent to the class had annoyed her, and she had to get it off her chest. I had been insensitive.

Despite feeling unfairly attacked, I took a lot from it after a few days:

I could have delivered my first lecture differently, with perhaps a little more humility, and could have worded a later email to the class more sensitively.

What I assumed was not what was perceived.

That might sound familiar to a few brands out there.

Just because we think we mean one thing, doesn’t mean others think the same.

The ultimate lesson? One cannot be humble enough, generally.

Secondly, if anything CAN be misinterpreted, it usually will be by someone.

A valuable lesson learned.

A new note of humility I tried to interject had a result with one student at the second lecture tonight.

On the feedback form they simply wrote: “much better than last week”.

1 Comment

  1. The other lesson to be learnt is that while we advise corporates – in this new world of 'engagement' – that they have to accept as they become more open that for every eight pieces of positive engagement there will be one negative piece……it's really difficult to deal with in practice. It hurts, if you're a corporate, a colleague, or even a lecturer

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