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6 Tips on Critiquing Without Melting Down

6 Tips on Critiquing Without Melting Down

    I had a senior-level writing course when I was in college. The first thing the professor told the class was that if any of us didn’t think we could handle honest critiques of our work, we should leave. Nobody did, of course, but over the course of the semester a few of my classmates wished they had. It wasn’t that the professor went out of his way to be mean, but his critique style could pretty well convince a student that their writing was simply awful. I remain convinced that if my professor had just made a few small changes to his critique style, he wouldn’t need to warn incoming students about critiques.

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    Offering constructive criticism is surprisingly hard to do. There’s this balance you have to strike between working to improve the project at hand and not absolutely bashing the creator of that project. It’s made worse by the fact that when we critique, we’re almost always looking at something subjective: there is no right way to judge a job performances, a short story or a user interface.

    1. Comment on what’s right

    In every peer critique I’ve ever experienced, the teacher or leader has made a point of instructing the group to comment on the things they like about th work in question. On the surface, it seems like this instruction is just an effort to keep everyone’s feelings from getting hurt. But there is a purpose to commenting on what’s right with a project: after a critique, it’s entirely possible for the creator to throw out everything and start from scratch. It’s a fact that most criticism focuses on what’s wrong with a project — that means there’s almost no feedback telling the creator what is worth keeping.

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    2. Ask why

    Every project has some sort of limitations from size to color to kind. When the person responsible for the project asks you for feedback, she may forget to mention those limitations. When you launch into a critique, though, she’ll get frustrated because you don’t understand the limitations she was working with. I’ve seen it happen — and been guilty of getting frustrated in this manner — more times than I care to count. The only way to avoid it — unless you have a list of the limitations in your hand — is to ask why the creator went with a certain tactic.

    3. Focus on the general

    We don’t always catch every typo before we go looking for a little feedback on our work. And while it’s great if we get a critique that deals with a few technicalities, it’s not nearly as valuable as a critique that focuses on the piece as a whole. When you’re giving feedback try to ignore the technical errors and focus on the big picture: in a performance review, for instance, how Bob interacts with customers is far more important than how he shakes a customer’s hand. Sure, the handshake could be improved on, but it’s better to have a great overall interaction with the customer than focus on that little detail.

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    4. Brainstorm fixes

    If you’re giving a critique, you have no obligation to explain how to fix the project in question. It can be helpful for the creator to hear some suggestions, but telling the creator that there’s only one way to fix it doesn’t often help. Instead, making the effort to talk through a couple of possible solutions — brainstorming a few fixes — can help the creator quite a bit.

    5. Offer an honest opinion

    As we try to avoid being too critical, we run the risk of not really explaining what we think of a given project. If we don’t actually tell a project’s creator what our honest opinions are, what’s the point of a critique at all? While I’m not encouraging you to seek out every little fault, I do think it’s important to tell the recipient of your critique where you struggled with the project, what seems like it could be improved and what you think other people will have problems with — as well as what you like about the project.

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    6. Leave it to their judgment

    No matter how fabulous your advice is, the person who’s work you critique may choose to ignore it. It’s his or her project and choice on how to change it. I’d recommend avoiding all the variations on “I told you so” you can think of, as well as ignoring any urges to ask for a critique of your critique. Unless you are asked for further feedback, consider yourself done when your initial critique is over.

    Building Your Critiquing Skills

    Critiquing is a skill, just as much as any other aspect of communication. Considering how often we’re asked for our opinions on something, it seems worthwhile to develop the skill to give an opinion without getting everyone in an uproar. While I’d love it if some people would just identify a little less with their work, the truth is that many people take critiques very personally and it takes a deft touch to help them improve a project without everything ending in tears. Whether you’re participating in critique sessions for your company’s next big marketing campaign or you’re headed off to the local writers group, think about how you can give a great critique. How can you really help the person asking for your feedback improve their project?

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    Last Updated on May 21, 2019

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

    If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

    Example 1

    You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

    You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

    In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

    Example 2

    You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

    People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

    You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

    Example 3

    You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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    The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

    Example 4

    You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

    Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

    If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

    Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

    • Understand your own communication style
    • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
    • Communicate with precision and care
    • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

    1. Understand Your Communication Style

    To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

    In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

    Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

    2. Learn Others Communication Styles

    Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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    If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

    “How do you prefer to receive information?”

    This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

    To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

    3. Exercise Precision and Care

    A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

    On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

    Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

    I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

    I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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    In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

    The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

    Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

    4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

    Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

    In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

    “Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

    Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

    Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

    It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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    It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

    It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

    Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

    Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

    The Bottom Line

    When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

    I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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    Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

    Reference

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