Taking Criticism, part 2: Rules of the game

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This is part 2 of a 2-part series on Taking Criticism. You can check out part 1 here.

The real way to do it

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Here’s what you do when you’re in the hot seat, when you’re sitting across from a friend, a client, a group, a class, or an audience, all of whom have seen your work and all of whom have a comment primed and ready to fire at you. Here’s what you do:

Shut up.

You have to shut up. You can’t talk at all. You have to keep your mouth closed and listen to every word that those people are saying.
You can’t explain how the person didn’t understand what you meant, you can’t correct them on pronunciation, you can’t tell them that they’re just wrong. You cannot defend yourself or your precious work. You just have to sit there and listen.

If they ask questions, you can answer them, but just answer the question, and immediately shut up again. If you need clarification, just ask for clarification. Then shut up again.

Take notes. Write down what they say. Write down new ideas that come to you, and they will come.

And never interrupt. Even if they are way, way off the mark, never interrupt.

Once the barrage is over, you get to ask directed questions that you have about the piece. For instance, did they understand the importance of the color choice? Are they able to understand how to use the website’s navigation? If they didn’t like a scene, what do they think was missing? What would they do to make it better? Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge what an audience will think without asking them. This is a chance to get an outside point-of-view, which is sometimes desperately needed.

And that’s it. Wrap it up. Take your notes and new ideas and go off and start to make your work better.

Cleansing fire

You’ll notice, at no point in this process do you get an opportunity to defend yourself. That’s intentional. I find that the minute you start to argue about how your choice was right and the audience opinion is wrong, you are no longer thinking about how your work can become better. You’re thinking about how you are already right. And that’s not the point of a critique.

The point of a critique is to light your work on fire, burn off the weak material, and then let something stronger rise from the ashes.

This isn’t to say that you can’t dismiss a point that you wholeheartedly disagree with. But if you receive a comment that hits on a topic that you’re confident about, that pebble should make no ripples. But hear them out. They may raise a point that you hadn’t thought of before. And even if they don’t, hearing an argument against something that you believe in strongly, more often than not, will simply serve to strengthen your belief.

Again, receiving criticism isn’t about defending your work. It’s about burning it down and building it up again, better than ever.

Links

Handling Critcism - Copyblogger