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The Lost Art of Criticism

The Lost Art of Criticism

How often do you look up people’s opinions and reviews about movies before you watch them? In this day and age, it’s so easy for everyone to write out their opinion on something and post it on the internet. So in the case of movies, pretty much anyone can be a ‘movie critic’.

But a lot of these people openly criticize newly released movies without real concrete reasons to back up their points of view. Most of the time, people only see things from a personal perspective and their own feelings about it rather than forming different perspectives and providing a critical structure towards the film. Criticism is an art but an art that’s getting lost in a sea of personal opinions.

Roger Ebert was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. The Pulitzer Prize for Criticism is a prestigious award presented since 1970 to critics who have demonstrated ‘distinguished criticism’. Ebert won due to his “relative, not absolute” critical approach to films.

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    In other words, when he reviewed a film, he did it from the point of view of its prospective audience as well as the film’s value as a whole.

    The Damage of Biased Opinions

    We all have opinions and like to express them and the internet makes it much easier for more people to voice their strong points of view. There are many people who are more informed or knowledgable than others but this isn’t a ticket to being right with their opinions. It’s still subjective criticism if it isn’t done in a professional and trained way therefore bias rears its head in most cases resulting in a limiting, single perspective.

      Bias is natural for us and hard to rein in. In neurological terms, the brain has limited information processing capacity.[1] This means we actually believe we know more than we actually do and we have a tendency to embrace only information that supports our own belief and so “confirmation bias” is formed. This allows many of us to enter a state of assumption or relying on common ‘facts’ to back up our belief without seeking disconfirming evidence. It’s in this state that we create the “I’m right and you’re wrong” way of thinking.

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        While people giving out their idea of criticism may seem harmless, the danger of this is the general dismissal and lack of credibility within a critical review. The main point of constructive, unbiased criticism in anything is to create an improvement but if we don’t know the true art of delivering criticism, the people receiving the criticism can easily dismiss it and not use it to build on improving.

          What Exactly is Good Criticism?

          The basis of good criticism is positive intention. This means it’s presented as a form of communication with the intent of understanding others or helping others to improve in a positive direction.

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          Anyone who puts their creative work out there should be open to ways of improvement and growth. Good, constructive criticism is in place to allow the creator to gain more perspective and help them to make their next set of choices.

          Valued criticism should also be objective and come from a space of taking in different perspectives. This means being able to recognise that there isn’t one universal opinion but recognising there are many possible and valuable points of view to take into consideration.

          Fully understanding the intention of what you’re forming a critical eye about is key to sensible criticism. Measuring how good or bad something is requires knowledge about the true intent behind what the creator is trying to get across.

          Lastly, respecting other points of view is essential. Good criticism never comes from a standard perspective but takes into account different ways of seeing something and acknowledging other approaches of thinking than your own.

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            A Guide to Good Criticism: Giving It Out and Taking It

            The ability to be a good critic will add to the world because you can really create improvement and growth. Taking criticism can be hard, but if you do this with an open mind and in a constructive way, you can really add value to your own growth and direction.

            Giving Criticism

            1. Make sure you fully understand the intentions and goals behind what you’re looking at.
            2. Be mindful of your personal opinion and realise that it doesn’t determine the quality of something.
            3. Avoid focusing on only the flaws and be sure to pay the same amount of attention to the good qualities. This creates an important element of motivation and encouragement for the one being criticised.

            Taking Criticism

            1. Listen and be as open as possible to what’s being said. It’s important to get as many perspectives as possible in order to gain a fuller picture and identify growth.
            2. Ask clarifying questions with the intention of fully understanding what they are communicating to you. It’s very easy to shut off and make judgements about their opinion if you feel it’s wrong. Make sure you’re clear about what they mean and then process what they’re saying.
            3. Ask for suggestions for improvement but stay true to your original goals. Don’t change entire areas just to keep someone else happy but keep them aligned with your initial outlook and intention.
            4. Be in control by choosing someone who you know has the ability to give good and constructive criticism. This doesn’t mean someone who you know will have a biased towards you but someone who is honest and wants the best for you in terms of growth and improvement.

            Next time you give an opinion, read someone else’s opinion or take criticism, be mindful of the perspective it’s coming from. Ask yourself if your or their opinion is bias, fuelled by emotion or a limited perspective. Take into account more than one perspective and understand what the true intentions of what you’re seeing is trying to convey. Taking criticism can be hard but make sure it’s coming from an honest source and be open to improvements for positive growth.

            Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

            Reference

            [1] ScienceDirect: Trends in Cognitive Sciences

            More by this author

            Anna Chui

            Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the Content Strategist of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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            Last Updated on January 15, 2021

            7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

            7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

            The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

            Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

            Posture

            First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

            • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
            • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
            • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
            • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

            All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

            Facial Expressions

            Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

            • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
            • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
            • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

            If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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            1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

            A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

            The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

            This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

            2. Relax Your Face

            New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

            The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

            To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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            3. Improve Your Eye Contact

            Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

            The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

            To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

            3. Smile More

            There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

            Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

            4. Hand Gestures

            Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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            It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

            5. Enhance Your Handshake

            In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

            “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

            It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

            6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

            As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

            Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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            Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

            Final Takeaways

            Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

            If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

            More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

            Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

            Reference

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