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Constructive Criticism Gone Awry (As a Receiver)

Prefacing today’s post saying I appreciate and even look forward to constructive criticism. Deep-rooted in me is a competitive strive to be the best version of myself, so constructive criticism is welcome.
Recently, an acquaintance offered me constructive criticism that I did not, however, appreciate. Summarizing the incident:

Man walks up to me in the gym while I’m working out with my buddy, and asks, “Daryl, can I offer you some constructive criticism?” 

Me: “Sure.” 

Man: “Well, I’ve been noticing lately when you’re talking to people, you’re not turned facing them. You’re facing another way, which can be rude. It doesn’t show that you’re paying attention to them.” 

Me: “Oh, okay.” 

Man: “Daryl, I like talking to you. I know we’re in here working out, but lately, I’ve just noticed you doing this, and I know you don’t mean it. However, it comes across as you not caring.” 

Me: “Hmm, sorry to hear that. Were you just noticing me talking to [Man Y] of there?”

Man: “Yes.” 

Me: “Oh, well, you know, [Man Y] is a chiropractor. I was talking to him and showing him my neck. You see, I’ve had a hurt neck the last several weeks, so I was showing him where I was having pain from the front and giving him the side perspective when it hurts.” 

Man: “Oh, yes, he’s a chiropractor, isn’t he?” 

Me: “Yeah… and yes, I’ve realized I’m not facing people so much these days. Honestly, I also made a conscious effort to not talk to people in the gym the last month. Ever since I hurt my neck, I’ve just wanted to concentrate on my rehab and recovery.” 

Man: “Oh, yeah, the neck is not a good place to be hurt.” 

Etc. etc.

I reflected on this encounter a lot after this – I was bothered. I realized the following:
  • I value relationships hugely, so when someone tells me I am being rude, that’s a bigdeal. I want people to value and enjoy interactions with me, not walk away feeling I thought less of them.
  • As much as I want constructive criticism, it must come from a place of empathy. The man might not have realized my neck injury over the last weeks, but surely, he would have noticed me articulating my neck with a known chiropractor. Meanwhile, knowing how important the gym was to me and my normal “do not talk to me, I’m focused” attitude was heightened. A probing question would have put us both on equal footing with a bit of empathy for what was going on.
  • Though there are clues that would indicate my focus and temperament, I do what I feel is needed that I best for me (i.e. earbuds in, focused look, on a timer). However, all of my actions can be interpreted differently by others. I have to be cognizant and comfortable with how I act, why I act, and what others may perceive.

Constructive criticism is great, but it can be tough deliver effectively. I completely agree with the man on how facing people while talking is respectful; while not doing so is rude. I also agree that I probably have done this quite a bit recently. However, I also felt annoyed and misunderstood due to what I knew I wanted – to heal, to recover, and to still challenge myself physically.

Days after this reflection, I can’t say I have changed much in how I approach my workouts. I’m still intensely focused. If someone walks up to me, I will face them. Though, if my watch beeps telling me my rest period is up, I will need to speak up and let the other person know I need to keep going. It’s the truth, and I hope s/he will understand.
Also, it’s great when I have people around me who will give me constructive criticism. It shows I have people around me who care and want me to be my best self, too.