Skills Breakdown, Part 2: Receiving Critiques

It would be nice if receiving a critique were a purely cold cognition task, meaning a task that only involves logic and reason. That is not the case. Receiving a critique has a high potential to turn into a hot cognition experience, meaning emotions are involved and have the potential to get the better of us. We are often told to not take critiques personally, but rarely are we taught how to do that.

In the last post, we discussed the three pillars of focus we have at the Critique MD: giving critiques, receiving critiques, and managing critique groups. From a learning perspective, we always start with the skill of giving critiques, because that is a skill of Power. Receiving critiques on the other hand, at its core, is a skill of Vulnerability, being open to hearing what is and is not working about your story all the while staying in charge of your emotional state. To strengthen our ability to receive critiques with grace and aplomb requires us to look at our triggers and beliefs. That can be uncomfortable. But it is so, so worth it.

It is the process that helps us get to a state of what I call empowered openness—meaning we have trained ourselves how to be open to feedback, keep our cool, and even enjoy the critique process no matter what it said or how it is delivered. And one step further, we have strategies and techniques to bring ourselves back to center if we do get triggered. It is all about finding our inner grit. Here are some of the skills involved:

  • Equilibrium: Our brains process critical feedback as a threat—an attack—and our ancient flight-fight-freeze patterns can kick into gear. Some of us become more rebellious or defensive in the face of criticism (fight), others of us may crumble (freeze), and perhaps some of us, depending on past critique experiences, may come to the decision, “never again I am subjecting myself to that critique nonsense.” That latter would be the flight response, and even if you have only quit the critiquing process rather than quitting writing altogether, you are missing out on a process that can help you and your story improve. In all three cases, we have to some degree lost our cool. To be clear, I am down with emotions. We need them to write with passion and impact, however they don’t necessarily serve us in getting the most out of a critique. So the skill of equilibrium is about expanding our ability to keep our cool no matter what. This is preventative action.
  • Resilience: We are humans, which means even if we have done a lot of work to expand our equilibrium, it is likely we will on occasion get emotionally upended by the critique process. Resilience skills are all about how well we reset when we wobble. Do we stay in pique, anger, or despair way longer than what serves us? Or are we able to honor and process the emotions, decide what actions we need/want to take, and then get back to the business of writing?
  • Assessment and Planning: This is the most tactical of the receiving feedback skills and relates to our ability to assess the feedback we have received. At the most basic level: Which points do we agree with? Which ones do we choose to dismiss? Evaluating the sum total of the feedback is what empowered critique receivers do all the time. They are open and curious about all the feedback, but always retain their right as the author to not take action on a suggestion. Here both power and vulnerability is at play.

Now I realize for some folks getting down into the messiness of emotions is the last thing they want to do, but I say, “Let’s go there!” Because, if we do, not only will we be able to handle critiques better, we will also unlock new levels of emotional fluidity that will serve us in our storytelling—i.e., allow us to move our reader more deeply. Shazam!

Onward in kindness,

Christine Carron, The Critique MD

Illustration by Molly Chao, 2020

P.S. For more information on hot versus cold cognition, see this short video:

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