How Do You Handle Criticism? (NSQ Ep. 7)
Also: is it better to send a congratulatory note to someone who deserves it or a condolence note to someone who needs it?
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Relevant References & Research
Question #1: We need critical feedback to improve, so why is it hard to hear?
- Stephen refers to a recent conversation with David Byrne, the lead singer of critically-acclaimed rock band Talking Heads and the man behind the No Stupid Questions theme song, “And She Was.” Stephen spoke with Byrne for Freakonomics Radio Ep. 417, “Reasons to Be Cheerful” — in the episode, Byrne shares his experience with negative reviews and discusses his new project reasonstobecheerful.world.
- Angela admires how her friend, organizational psychologist Adam Grant, deals with criticism.. She says Grant often asks colleagues to critically review his public speeches, then rates himself on how well he received the feedback. You can check out two of these lectures on his Ted Talk page: “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” and “Are You a Giver or a Taker?”
- Stephen tells a story about a creative writing seminar he took while in graduate school. This was part of a master of fine arts program in writing at Columbia University — Stephen received his degree in 1990, and later went on to teach at the University. You can read more details about his experience in Columbia Magazine.
- Stephen and Angela discuss a study colloquially known as the “wise-feedback paper,” which found that teachers were able to make feedback 40 percent more effective by prefacing it with 19 words. The 2014 study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and is called, “Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide.”
- Stephen and Angela briefly touch on the idea of “radical candor.” Executive coach Kim Scott is the author of the New York Times bestseller Radical Candor, and Bridgewater Associates’s Ray Dalio famously practices radical transparency.
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Question #2: Which is the more meaningful act — celebrating a friend’s accomplishment, or supporting them through a loss?
- Angela turns to the work of social psychologist Shelly Gable to teach Stephen how to best support a loved one’s accomplishments. In a 2006 paper, “Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Event Disclosures,” Gable and her co-author discuss the importance of active-constructive responses.
- For resources on how to best support someone during trying times, Angela recommends looking into supportive listening — a relationship-building tool which Stephen initially mocks, but quickly learns to embrace.
- Before Angela fully explains the concept of supportive listening, Stephen jokes that it seems like a “Saturday Night Live version of grieving.” For an actual Saturday Night Live version of grief, check out this 1976 sketch where Chevy Chase plays a priest who can’t stop hiccuping at a funeral.
Stephen and Angela briefly discuss the idea of “mirroring” — a subconscious reflection of another person’s behavior. To learn more about the science behind mirroring, we recommend checking out this 2016 paper from The Royal Society: “Mirroring and Beyond: Coupled Dynamics as a Generalized Framework for Modelling Social Interactions.”