10 ways to request — and receive — constructive criticism

ten ways to request and receive constructive criticism

Source: flickr Creative Commons

1. Understand and recognize the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.
The former may not make you comfortable, but it does make you think and ultimately act to improve your writing. The latter saps you of energy and confidence, setting up hurdles and blocks that slow or halt your personal or professional growth. Constructive criticism is to be embraced, destructive criticism is to be ignored.

2. Don’t ask if you’re not willing to accept.
Criticism, however constructive, can be hard to take. Nonetheless, it’s imperative that you take it well, and even with grace and style. Remember always, it ain’t personal. It’s about how you can improve on something, make some thing better. You must understand and accept this if you are listen to what others have to say with an open mind and heart.

3. Choose your audiences carefully.
Don’t request feedback from negative or small thinkers, e.g., individuals who have hidden agendas, difficulty accepting the success of others, or a limited vision of what’s possible. By the same token, don’t choose folks who love or respect you so much that they would rather placate or protect you than offer feedback that is honest and thereby helpful.

4. Choose an audience of 3-plus.
One person’s opinion is, well, just one person’s opinion; it may or may not have validity. Two or more people saying the same thing, even if in different ways, is harder to dismiss. The key then is to have three of more “critics” to discern if there are any “recurring themes.” If so, you will know that you have an issue that must be addressed if your writing is to move onto a higher level.

5. Choose your audience the way you would a team.
Pick individuals with distinct experiences, areas of expertise, and tastes. Each will come at his/her task from a unique perspective, adding invaluable dimension to your project. Too, these varying perspectives can pinpoint holes in logic, substance, and facts that you might not have identified otherwise.

6. Provide instructions.
Let your “critics” know if there’s anything in particular you want them to read or look for. This enables them to focus their sights on what’s most important to you and to report back accordingly, be it on your delivery, organization, choice of topic, appearance, conclusions, etc.

7. Make your expectations clear.
State up front the kind of criticism you expect to receive. Let your “critics” know it must be constructive, not destructive, and that it must be specific. Comments like “I liked it,” “You did a good job,” “Looks good,” are practically meaningless. Too, they’re as unsatisfying as a limp handshake; one gets the sense that the other person isn’t (wasn’t) fully engaged. Worst of all, such comments don’t help you improve, because they give you no solid information to work with.

8. Take two steps back.
All criticism (especially that coming from several “critics”) takes a while to sort through—and that’s just fine. In fact, it’s preferable. Let the comments of others filter through your system; let them co-mingle, evolve, take new shape, and open new doors. Only when you’ve fully absorbed what’s been said can you decide how (or even if) you’ll act on it.

9. Consult your most important critic.
Who is that all-important creature? You—first, last, and always. Remember—your opinion matters. After all, you know your work better than anyone else. You know what it was meant to be. And you are the one, the only one, who can deliver on its promise. Sure, the comments of others count; sure they can be wonderfully helpful. Ultimately, however, you’re the one in charge. You have the final word. You are the one who must step up to the plate and swing.

10. Become a constructive critic yourself.
When others ask for your feedback, model the best qualities of a constructive critic. Be honest, specific, relevant, caring. Most importantly, be present. Commit to really absorbing and thinking about another person’s work. It has taken a lot for them to put themselves in your hands; be worthy of that trust.

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