Why Point It Out?

On rude behaviour and finally learning my mother’s lessons.

I generally like talking to people. It takes me a minute to warm up sometimes, but I find that the experience of speaking to other humans is a good one.

This morning, I was going about my business at my internship, collecting data, talking with clients. I had a moment of pause at one of the desks, and a person to whom I’d given a survey came up to me.

To preface, this is an obnoxious survey. It includes two different measures because one of my supervisors inserted a his own measure. While I probably could have made a case for it not to be included given the length, it’s not exactly an unusual practice in academia.

I know the weak points of my survey because I am a living, breathing person who took each incarnation of the survey before it was used. As a secondary point, I’ve also literally been to school to understand what makes a methodology effective and what doesn’t.

I know this survey is long and sometimes repetitive, and because of my particularly obligations to my internship host and my advisor, I am using it anyway. 

I sincerely appreciate constructive criticism, and I often receive language edits and updates from people who take the survey. A French grammar teacher corrected the whole thing for me while they took it, and I included some of their corrections in my next round of printing.

Everyone has room for improvement!

Every day is a school day!

When it comes to giving feedback to total strangers, I still fail to understand why some people are obsessed with non-constructive criticism.

I often discuss the participant’s results on one of the measures, because I wrote commands in a spreadsheet to spit out their particular result and it’s colour-coded. I like doing it, the participants enjoy the extra information, and everyone goes home happy even if the survey is so deeply flawed.

It has happened several times that participants are uninterested in their results, and prefer instead to spend time insulting the different measures, and other minute details that I literally do not control.

Look, friends, colleagues, countrymen.

Everyone has room for improvement but some things that are annoying about the survey are intentional.

One person wanted to discuss how, in their training in a different field, they would never repeat questions the way I had… When I offered to explain why the researcher who developed the questions used repetition they told me that they didn’t have time, before staying at the center for another two hours.

Ultimately, that’s fine : Nobody needs to listen to me when I respond to their criticism, but people who offer constructive criticism are generally interested in a response.

That’s just the bottom line. Nobody who raises a criticism of my work is actually obligated to hear the response. But there have been people who noticed the repetitive questions, asked about them, and felt differently about their experience after learning the reasoning behind the method!

I normally let these things roll off my back because in imagining all of the ways that I could make a fool out of myself in French, my written work is the least of my concern.

I’m not making a French mistake with my survey. I’m taking a tool that is not perfect and I am using it anyway.

Recall, then, the sudden arrival of a participant at the desk upon which I was balancing a stack of surveys and a half-dozen pens. They said, without preamble, “This survey is too long, both pages are the same, and it’s a pain in the ass.”

Their tone did not indicate that they wanted to enter into discussion. I took a moment to open my patience, like a bandaid, and paste it over the part of myself that would have responded, “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it or speak to me ever again.”

Instead, I replied, “Yes, I know it is long, we are measuring two different things on each of the pages – ” and they cut me off.

“No, really, it’s a pain in the ass. I’ll still do it because I went to the same university, but it’s a pain in the ass.”

This brings me to the point of this reflection and how I want to use this rude, deeply annoying, and ultimately unhelpful comment to be a better, bigger person. A reflection, if you will, on the kinds of criticisms that I tend to make, observed through the mirror of someone who felt like being a jerk.

It boils down to this : if I am about to make a comment about something obvious, unchangeable, or petty, I can instead use my breath to say literally anything else. If I am situationally compelled to say something, but not able to offer a useful comment, I can ask a question instead!

It gives me nothing to get upset about people like this. I am better served by listening for constructive criticism, and writing it off when it’s simply delivered by someone who is taking out their feelings on me.

I know that there will be people who are interested in criticism for its own sake, and who are not interested in growth or improvement. I will likely meet them again and again; that’s life, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be one of them.


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