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Work Lessons From Reality TV: Handling Criticism

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 11, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionReality television critiques are unnecessarily brutal because many of the judges stake their reputations and make their money off being assholes. But, sometimes, the judges and mentors help contestants see their work clearly. These critiques act as an anti-snowflake tonic and remind contestants that the show isn’t about them or their personalities–it’s about what they can deliver.

Donna Flagg at Psychology Today writes, “By telling someone that he or she is doing something that is not working, you offer a truth and clarity that can help both sides further their understanding, do something about it and move on.”

Don’t gnaw on the past. Reality television proves that a person can take a risk and fail. Even if a person lands on the bottom in one challenge, he or she can go on to with the whole show. A critique is not the end of the world–it might be the beginning of a new idea that is even better than the last one.

Accept that life isn’t fair. Oh, this is so hard, especially for aspiring academics who start out believing grad school is a meritocracy who later discover that pure dumb luck is a big factor in getting a job. As for reality shows, some undeserving people stay on shows for longer than they should because they deliver the kind of drama that keeps audiences tuning in. But reality tv also makes clear that a failure in one challenge is not the end as long as a person is willing to sift through feedback and distinguish what is useful and what isn’t.

Detemination is learning how to handle an insult from Gordon Ramsay. Image of the reality tv chef by Dave Pullig from Wikimedia Commons under a GNU Free Documentation license.
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Work Lessons From Reality TV: Taking Criticism

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOn “Project Runway,” when Tim Gunn walks in the room with that dreaded velvet bag, the contestants know there’s a twist that will make their task even more difficult. However, the show wouldn’t be the show without the threat of the velvet bag, and the contestants won’t succeed unless they can prove they can change to fit the environment.

If you aren’t willing to learn anything new, you are not going to succeed in work, period. If you aren’t willing to adapt to changes in culture and technology, the rest of the world will evolve past you. Here’s some reality-show tips on how to stay flexible without compromising your integrity:

Try seeing your work through the eyes of another person. One designer, Mondo, felt that the skills of another designer, Michael C., were lacking and made that clear from the start. Then Mondo saw how Michael worked and got the memo that some people just have different methods. Eventually, Mondo admitted he was being a dick and apologized. Another contestant, Ivy, did no such thing and hovered over her partner, Michael D., as he tried to do everything exactly as she would. However, if she’d given him a bit more space, he might have been able to reproduce her look.

When life gives you a twist, make soup. The craziest change-up I’ve seen on any reality show was on an earlier season of “Top Chef.” During a quickfire, the chefs were working diligently on a main course. Then Padma Lakshmi waltzed into the kitchen in her glazed-stoner manner and informed the contestants that they had to turn a main course into a soup. I was baffled. It was the one time I watched “Top Chef” and wondered how the contestants were going to pull that one off. And some of them actually did. The ability to shift perspectives is an incredible skill. I don’t think I have it yet … it seems to be a gift, and I’d love to hear from others how they’ve developed that talent.

Image of a “Project Runway” dress by Uli Herzner taken by Eric Skiff. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Work Lessons From Reality TV: Teamwork

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionReality television gets a bad rap since it encourages and rewards vicious, lewd and unsanitary behavior. (Flavor of Love, Season Two, Episode One will never be topped in this department). But reality TV might be useful in terms of modeling good behavior, too, especially regarding teamwork, determination and adaptability.

Regarding teamwork, the first response to a team assignment is a collective groan, whether it is on TV or in the classroom. Most people see teamwork as torture because they have to compromise their vision or put up with bossy britches on one hand or slackers on the other.

There’s no question that it’s easier to work separately than on a team–but that’s not how it works in the Hamster World. That’s not even how it works in academia. Although people like to believe their solo scholarly work will get them jobs, their references and recommendations also play a role, and you have to act as a team player in order to get those.

So, here are some tips for working as a team courtesy of reality televison:

Air out all group ideas first. This is the hardest part of a team exercise because the dominant players will get called out for being pushy. The good leaders in the group will try to make others feel like they are heard. In the recent “Project Runway” collection challenge, the “leather & lace” team, a team made up of the show’s underdogs, aired out ideas. They had some awkward moments, but after some haggling, they came to an agreement.

Image of Jeff Probst at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards by Greg Hernandez. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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