Criticism as Love

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Giving good criticism is really difficult, which is one of the reasons I think it’s the nicest thing somebody can do for me.

I need criticism

Much like I can only become good at something by sucking at it first, I can’t improve from my current level of skill without being told what has to be strengthened. Sometimes you can tell by yourself what your work lacks. More often, you can’t. Criticism is the next level of editing after you’ve taken as many passes as it takes for you to feel like something is ‘finished’.

Hint: it’s not finished.

Good criticism is valuable, because it elevates the work that you’re capable of doing. The problem is, it’s also valuable because it’s rare.

Areas where you won’t get honest feedback

In spaces with low psych safety, people feel as though criticism will either be taken personally, provoke backlash, or both. When the members of a group have arrived at the unspoken decision that they’d all rather preserve their egos than actually make good work, they succeed at that primary goal. But the output suffers. When nobody is willing to honestly and helpfully critique mediocre work, that mediocrity is going to become the norm.

The difference between ‘constructive’ and ‘hurtful’

Obviously, it’s easy to take criticism too personally. However, I think there’s also a certain onus on the criticizer to be sure that they’re critiquing the performance and not the person. When I write a rough draft of something and someone identifies the spots where it’s weak, I’m thankful for the opportunity to strengthen it. If I write a rough draft and a person says “your writing needs some improvement,” that doesn’t help me do a better job on that project, but it does hurt my feelings a little. It frames the weak writing as somewhat innate to me, rather than something that exists outside of me and can be improved.

Challenge Networks

Adam Grant talks often about the importance of “challenge networks” in addition to support networks. Challenge networks are made up of folks that will push back on your bad ideas or weak attempts, to help you improve.

Adam Grant’s WorkLife episode on criticism.

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