A Case of Critique (and how it can make you better)

Speakers cringe at the prospect. Writers scan their email with one eye. Employees throw back tums like candy. Critique. The gift that’s embraced like a root canal or case of shingles. Yes, it’s just that much fun.

When did critique become an illness to avoid? A shame, really. Critique carries the idea of mentoring and coaching. With an eye for detail, it involves looking intently at something (a presentation, essay, proposal, performance), and offering wise, detailed, expert insight into how it can be improved.

I used to hate critique. From my skewed, perfection-driven perspective, critique meant I’d failed, made a mistake, didn’t execute perfectly. Any areas of improvement implied I didn’t do it right the first time.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It took an intense speaking conference to teach me the value of critique, both in communication and life in general. Surrounded by a group of sincere professionals who wanted me to succeed, I slowly opened myself to input. With gentle honestly, they provided detailed insight into my message and delivery. And guess what? It didn’t kill me. Even better, I improved.

Critique isn’t the enemy. Refusing it is.

In the years since, I’ve spent countless hours coaching and critiquing other speakers. In person, over the phone, on Skype, over email. I’ve listening to hundreds of speeches and offered an equal number of critiques, to newbies and high-profile professionals alike.

Without fail, those who show the most profound improvement are those who embrace critique.

As someone who travels in a world of communicators, I receive regular critique. Although I still don’t enjoy it, it no longer feels like a case of shingles. Here’s an inside peak at my process:

Listen. You will be evaluated, whether you want to be or not. Truth is most will do it behind your back, in Amazon reviews, Twitter streams, blog posts, and anonymous comments. When someone does it directly, with a heart to help you improve, you owe it to yourself to sit up and pay attention. Listening doesn’t mean agreement. Listening means you’re teachable and willing to explore possibilities.

Acknowledge. A couple weeks ago I received a tough critique. At the same time, I know true critique is a goldmine. Most editors don’t have time to offer feedback to writers. But, to my deep gratitude, this one took the time pen feedback intended to help me improve. Regardless of whether or not I implement it, I acknowledged it as a gift. Simply saying “thank you” made the feedback less of an enemy and more of a friend.

Process. Critique takes time to digest. The initial reaction is often emotional, somewhat defensive, and insecure. Understandable. Avoid knee-jerk responses, including all temptations to tar and feather the critique-r. Breathe. Absorb. Process. Let feedback sit for a few hours, days, weeks, whatever it takes. Give yourself time to receive it without the initial emotion clouding your vision.

Discern. Not all advice should be implemented. Period. This is the beauty of critique: you get to choose. Use discernment to weed out the wisdom from the foolishness. Just because someone is an expert doesn’t mean they know you or your message. Including me. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to own your art. Pray, get additional opinions perhaps, but discern the parts of the critique needing action. Speaking of…

Act. Critique only makes you better if you do something about it. What a waste to give it lip service! Give me feedback! Tell me how to make this better! What should I do? If your invitation is filled with air, save your breath. Don’t invite it unless you’re willing to do something about it.

I doubt critique will ever be easy for me to receive. Unless, of course, it comes packaged in a hot fudge sundae. Until then, let’s listen, acknowledge, process, discern and act. I promise—It won’t be the death of us.

How do you handle critique? What makes critique easier for you to receive?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “A Case of Critique (and how it can make you better)

  1. Due to my high levels of perfection and awesomeness, critiques never come. If they do? They are wrong and stupid. Because I am so perfect. The Queen of England keeps friending me and I just laugh!

    Okay, slap slap slap!

    I recently handed my wittle baby to a good friend, a fellow writer chick, who I trusted 300%. But what I got was a biiiiiig surprise. Instead of fawning and blowing air kisses, she was lovingly honest.
    She didn’t like my WIP. She said , and I sorta quote, “you wrote a great story, but there is so much missing… what is missing?”
    About 10,000 words.
    I’d gone back and cut enough to please debut word count standards and injured my baby. Now, I have gone through the WIP at least enough times to know what I cut. So now, after having been asked for a proposal and samples, I’m going back and putting the baby back together the way I want it.
    The same friend is going to get a Word file with the colour back in the sky, instead of “the trees are green, the sky is blue”, it will say “tall, ancient ponderosa pines dipped their hands in the cobalt sky, trying to catch the early morning stars before they flew away with the moon”.

    Love, kindness and honesty made her critique easier to swallow and it will make the MS query worthy. I won’t fudge on the word count, but the story will make the word count go down as well as warm fudge and fresh Earl Grey.