Here at the Critique MD we divide the skills of critiquing into three distinct skill sets:
- Giving Critiques
- Receiving Critiques
- Managing Critique Groups
The first and the last are action-oriented. And while both, of course, involve you to a high degree, neither are about you. In the first, the focus is how to effectively (1) evaluate another writer’s work and (2) communicate your feedback. In the latter, it is all about ensuring that the process and environment you have set up are (1) supporting your overall goal to help the writers in the group grow as writers and storytellers, and (2) creating convivial, authentic, and trusting group dynamics.
The second skill, Receiving Critiques, is a bit trickier, because it is all about you. When I lead workshops and seminars about how to receive critiques effectively, one of the first notions I work to dispel (despite my deep commitment to an evidence-based, kind approach to giving critiques) is any idea the participants might be holding that the world at large will buy into an evidence-based, kind critique approach to giving critiques. That, my friends, is wishful thinking in its full wackadoo form.
Writers who think they can escape the challenges of receiving critiques by railing loudly and incessantly about how everyone else is behaving (poorly in their estimation) will only accomplish one thing: hoarseness.
Receiving critiques well is not about getting everyone else to conform to the way you (or I) think critiques should be delivered. Receiving critiques is about equanimity and resilience. Building the former so that you can expand your capacity to handle a critique no matter what is said or how it is delivered. Expanding the latter so that on the days that you have a critique receiving blip, you can strategically and easily bring yourself back to center. In both cases, it is cultivating the grounded confidence that, “I’ve got this.”
So what is one of my key tips to start moving toward this interior space of calm? Deep breathing. Nope. Positive or intentional thoughts? Nope.
My most basic tip is to sit up straight.
Kooky, right? Or is it?
Try this: Slump over. Hang your head. Droop your shoulders. Are you doing it? If you are, don’t you kind of feel a wail of woe wanting to burst out of you? What emotional state do you associate with this posture? Depression. Sadness. Yup.
Now sit up straight. Lightly bring your shoulders back. Lift your chin. Maybe put your hands on your hips and survey your kingdom. Ahhh. Inner power and confidence are bubbling. Just from a posture shift.
One of the most watched TED Talks (over 18 million views at the time of this blog post going up) is all about power postures. If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s talk on what happens physiologically when we stand or sit up straight, definitely take the 20 minutes to watch it. I’ve embedded the talk at the bottom of this post.
And it’s not just modern research that is going gaga over posture. In Qigong, which is an ancient self-healing and energy management art, the first level of practice is called the Three Intentful Corrections. They are, in order:
- Adjust and regulate the posture
- Adjust and regulate the breath
- Adjust and regulate the consciousness (thoughts)
Why posture first? Because it’s harder to breathe freely (which is a key calming technique) if your posture is out of kilter. So attending to posture is an important building block in maintaining your equilibrium, which is a core goal in receiving critiques.
And let’s apply one other lens. This time from architecture. Specifically, the old adage that form follows function. If you want to function with strength, openness, and curiosity in a critique what form (posture) would follow that? Slouching in your chair like a rebellious teenager who could care less? Hangdogging it as if you’re the worst writer who ever walked across the Earth? Sitting stiff as a board, jaw tense, back rigid, conveying to everyone they better not say your work is anything less than extraordinary?
The posture you are going for is effortlessly upright, loose, and relaxed.
Here is the fun bit: attending to your posture is an easy action you can take to practice your critique receiving skills on a daily basis. In fact, I highly encourage this approach. Just a few times a day, check in on your posture. Sure you could go whole-hog and start some back strengthening exercises if you want. But consistent, daily awareness to posture—when you’re walking your dog, when you’re doing the dishes, when you’re reading a book or even binge watching TV—will support your goal of powerful critique receiving. Just start where you are and take microsteps. Those are the easiest ones to take. And are so low effort it is harder for our brains to make excuses not to do them.
One final tip: Don’t try to suddenly work on your posture when you are in the middle of receiving a critique. If good posture is not currently your habit, then trying to force it in a stressful situation (which critiques can be) is not the best option. It will likely contribute to more stress, and less equanimity.
What do you think, folks? Do you buy that posture can support good critique receiving? Or, have I simply ruined your slouching mojo for the day?
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD
 Roger Jahnke, O.M.D, The Healing Promise of Qi, (New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2002), pages 32 – 39.
 For more information on the power of microsteps, see https://thriveglobal.com/stories/microsteps-big-idea-too-small-to-fail-healthy-habits-willpower/
Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk: