It’s been a little while since I took the time to be a “normal” blog and give those little updates on life that have literally no impact on the world whatsoever (don’t worry, more creative work will be back tomorrow). Which is why I am not going to talk about how I finished all my graduate school applications recently, how stressful it’s been, etc, etc, etc (wait but that’s what you just did Cassady…). Instead, I wanted to talk about something that has not happened to me before. Someone who had been reading my blog asked me for advice. Now, obviously I am a busy person—we all are. But I took the time to check out a bit of their work and give them constructive criticism. Which I like to think I am decent at giving, and I know a lot of people who are not very good at it. So I wanted to discuss it.
One of my good friends is a person who doesn’t know how to give criticism. He will say things like “that’s bad” or “I don’t like how this looks at all.” And that’s fine if a person is secure with their work, but let’s be honest, how many of us really feel completely secure with our work? Especially when we are just starting off? Probably not that many of us. I know that I, personally, was exceptionally afraid to show people any of my writing when I first began doing it, and even before that, I was afraid to write because I felt like I myself would be doing a bad job. If someone had criticized me like my friend does right away, there’s a good chance I would not have gone forward with my writing.
Certainly, this is “my fault.” No individual should stop someone from achieving his or her dreams. But that’s not reality. Humans value other opinions—it’s the reason we ask people for advice on relationship, even if they have a terrible track record in them. It’s true that the only way to improve is to get criticism, but when we criticize it can be done in a better way. One way I like to do this is through a “compliment sandwich.” Going back to my original scenario, this blogger asked me to take a look at their work in the comments of one of my posts. That takes some guts, but they sounded rather shy about it. So I took a look, and I found a few things. First of all, they had a great basis for their work. Their concepts were really personal and relatable, which is a solid bedrock for writing. That said, they looked like they had rushed through their writing. Which we all do. I do it. Professionals do it. It’s not a big deal. That’s why people hire editors. But it did take away from their overall message, and they need to correct it to make their work as good as they envision it to be. So I pointed out the positives, then the negatives, to reinforce that they were doing good work but that it needed improvement, and then finished up with a reminder of those positives. Not excessively-if that is done, then the person isn’t going to take the criticism seriously. But this does allow for a friendly way to express the needed improvement. If someone, especially a stranger (or an acquaintance that isn’t very close), asks for advice, it means they value the opinion of the person they are asking, and to shoot them down will only cause self-doubt. It makes the matter more personal than it really is.
What do you think? This approach can vary in impact depending on the context of the discussion. Check out this article for some areas where this technique doesn’t work. Do you have any techniques you use to give constructive criticism? Let me know!
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