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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 September 18, 2020

    13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

    13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

    For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

    “We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

    “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

    Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

    You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

    Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

    1. Take a step back and evaluate

    When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

    1. What is the problem?
    2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
    3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
    4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
    5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

    Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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    2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

    If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

    At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

    Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

    3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

    Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

    4. Process your thoughts/emotions

    Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

    1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
    2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
    3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
    4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

    5. Acknowledge your thoughts

    Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

    By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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    Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

    6. Give yourself a break

    If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

    7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

    A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

    Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

    After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

    8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

    As Helen Keller once said,

    “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

    Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

    9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

    In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

    1. What’s the situation?
    2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
    3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
    4. Take action on your next steps!

    After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

    10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

    A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

    Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

    For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

    11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

    No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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    12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

    No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

    13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

    There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

    After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

    Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

    Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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