The Study Dude – The Innocent Bully

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to figure out why, statistically, 37 people report being bullied for every single person who reports being a bully, says Robert I. Sutton (as cited in Stone and Heen). Sounds like the stat of self-proclaimed excellent drivers versus bad drivers? Let’s face it, we rock; everyone else sucks.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude sinks deeper into Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. A gap will slap your face: the gap between how others view you and how you view yourself. Gave me nightmares.

What about that mismatch between your work and how your professor views your work? We all think we deserve an A when we get a B, don’t we?

Fickle Feedback: Praise, Coaching, and the A or F Grade
We might want praise, but sometimes our TA wants death.

You see, I wanted an A in an AU course. Previously, my undergrad GPA skyrocketed but my master’s GPA plummeted back to earth. I wanted a second chance. A chance to re-enter a master’s program and finally get that doctorate degree.

Recently, in the AU class, I got on the TA’s bad side. He fumed when I contacted staff about a three-week delay to his introductory email reply. ?It hasn’t been three weeks!? he wrote. He was right: it had been a mere two-and-half weeks. 1/8th a semester.

On the Landing, his comments to other students stirred pity. He scorned. Belittled.

And now, I was on his bad list. A certain F for A work.

What did I do? I withdrew.

Then reapplied.

I waited for the best TA to return from sabbatical and then continued the course and got that A.

The ogre retired. He was my bully; the world was his.

Stone and Heen say feedback comes in three forms: praise, coaching and evaluation. I say there’s a fourth: no feedback. Here’s their view on these three types of feedback. All fickle forms of feedback.
– Coaching is for learning; praise is for appreciation; evaluation lets us know our grade or rank. The world needs all three.
– Sometimes we want one type of feedback but get another. We may want evaluation (kind of like a grade) but get praise. We might want coaching but get evaluation. And so on. Fickle feedback.
– Sometimes praise sucks. You might want to know about your progress in a course that assigns grades at the end: an evaluation. Instead, midway through, you get a pat on the back. So, is your work an A, an F, or a WF: warm fuzzy?
– Many different ways to praise exists: a gift, a favor, the WF.
– Sometimes coaching can twist into evaluation. For example, red ink corrections covering your page like bad acne: we get defensive when we don’t want it.
– The solution? Coach first; evaluate later. Separate each task by three or more days. Start with the mark; later on, splatter the red ink.
– Another solution? Clarify what kind of feedback you want. Ask what kind of feedback the receiver wants.

Why we’re so awesome and deserve a better grade
Did you ever get bullied by someone who hated you?when you had no ill-will toward her?

A piece of advice: When a prof gets ?J? (jealousy), then avoid. At all costs.

Once, I wanted an A in chemistry so that I could study physics. My prof loathed me, though. Like the AU TA above. Never called on for an answer by her, my arm ached as I raised it high, often the only one in the class with an arm raised to her unanswered question.

Yet, at the start, I was the top student.

My friend had top student potential, too, and the prof adored her.

My friend bombed the first exam because, well, she thought multiple guess meant close her eyes and circle whatever. So, the prof allowed us to replace our grade with a rewrite, but rigged the terms in favor of my friend.

I coached my friend on how to write A exams. Neck-in-neck, we battled for that top spot. My friend commented many times on how poorly the prof treated me. I replied, torn, ?But her lectures are good.?

In the end, I got the top grade.

In spite of that, and the great lectures, the prof’s perception of me ended my pursuit of physics.

But, if I could go back in time, I would ask the prof one thing: what was it she despised about me? No holding back. Maybe she would have shown me a blind-spot.

Here’s what Stone and Heen say about our blind-spots. Like the droves of bullied people and the scarcity of actual bullies, we’ve all got blind-spots:
– We hate feedback that criticizes us, don’t we?
– Sometimes the feedback just doesn’t fit: It’s wrong, outdated, biased, unhelpful.
– But wait, we see our saintliness; others see our failings. Often, both sides have merit. So, learn from it.
– First, try to understand the person’s criticism. Seek out clarity on unclear words. For instance, you might say to me, ?You suck.? I should ask, ?In what ways do I suck?? If the feedback makes sense, find out how you can improve. You might see a blind-spot.
– When responding to negative feedback, validate the other person’s views while slipping your own view in between. don’t disagree; don’t agree. Understand. Keep probing until something sounds right. You’ll learn in the end.
– Get the data behind a criticism even though the interpretation of the criticism often involves emotion. Seek just the facts.
– When we disagree, each of our arguments have merits. So why the difference in views? Our experiences, our priorities?our lives?are different. To me, I’m the hero and You’re the villain; to you, You’re the hero and I’m the villain’that is, when we clash.
– Sometimes people see our obvious faults, but we can’t.
– We see our emotional reactions as contingent outcomes of a situation; other people see our emotional reactions as permanent parts of our character.
– When we face a scandal, we blame it on the situation; others blame it on our character.
– When something goes wrong, we look to our intentions; others look to our impacts.
– Some people labeled as bullies are unintentionally bullies. Only 1% of people claim to be bullies, according to Stutton (as cited in Stone and Heen). They might feel they have good intentions. They might blame the person claiming to be bullied: he’s so sensitive. Let the bully know the impact he or she has on you.
– Ask the person, ?What did I do wrong?? See your blindspot.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

ReferencesStone, Douglas, & Heen, Sheila. (2014). Thanks for the Feedback. NY: Penguin Books.