Psssst: Don’t Critique the Critique

As the Critique MD whenever I read these days, there’s a part of my brain—let’s call that part Little Radar—who is on the lookout for any phrase, sentence, concept, framework, or notion that might be useful to folks who are wanting to up their critiquing game. Little Radar landed on one such gem, while we were reading a book called How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. 

(Note: I’m not all the way through the book yet, because I keep stopping to do … nothing.)

The bit that made Little Radar clasp her hands together in pleasure was this: the goal and reward of listening deeply is a heightened sense of receptivity and a reversal of our usual cultural training, which teaches us to quickly analyze and judge more than to simply observe.[1]

Ain’t that the truth. To get the most out of a critique, we have to deeply hear and calmly take note of what our critiquers are offering us—meaning, we stay open and receptive. If our brains are getting all defensive, pouty, or full-on freaked and just waiting for a pause in order to tell the critiquer why they are so, so wrong for x-y-z, a-b-c, and m-n-o reasons, then we are likely missing something. Perhaps the key something that could have thrown light on the feedback point that triggered us in the first place.

Little Radar’s application of Odell’s sentence is this: We have to stop critiquing the critiquer when we are being critiqued. Or more succinctly: Don’t critique the critique.

Easier said than done, but here are some ideas:

1. Assess if you do this. There’s no use fixing something that isn’t broken. If you have already trained yourself to listen deeply without judgement and can consistently stay calm in critiques no matter what is said or how it is delivered, then stop here and do a happy dance. I mean really get into it! That is awesome!

But if you start noticing, “hmmm, I do get defensive and a little judgey in a critique,” like it’s unfair, or they’re being mean, or they don’t get me or my story, then . . . stop here and do a happy dance. Yep, you read that right.  If you just do this one step and start building your awareness of the less supportive or useful thought patterns that run in your head when you are being critiqued, that is huge. So, for you, too, really boogie down! Awareness is awesome!

2. Detach yourself from the manuscript. If we know we run hot and judgey when receiving critiques, it would be prudent to take actions that will help us run cooler and more zen (zeny?). One simple technique I learned is from a book called It’s Not Your Money by Tosha Silver. (Little Radar once again got super excited with the cross-over application to critiquing.)

Here’s the tip: Stop attaching the word “my” to whatever it is that is spinning you up. In context of that book, it is finances. In context of critiquing, it is the manuscript.

Consider this: If we were in a critique group together, and I was sick the night my pages were supposed to be critiqued, and I asked you to take notes for me on what was said, and you did that, do you think you would experience any personal charge about the feedback? Nope. Because it wasn’t your manuscript.

So, start saying to yourself like a mantra, “I am getting feedback on the manuscript” or “a manuscript,” and ixnay the “my manuscript” bit. It is surprisingly simple, and oddly powerful. This one little adjustment allows you to shift into neutral receiver/scribe mode about what you are hearing rather than going all Defensive Denise/Denny and pouncing on the very people who are doing their absolute best to help you.

3. Scribe Don’t Override. Writing something down in context of receiving a critique does not mean you are committing to acting on the feedback points, or even accepting all the points as valid. It just means you are writing down the feedback points. Which means you can quiet down that part of you who is at the ready to override, disprove, cancel, defend against or otherwise discount the feedback you are hearing.

To do this—to know deep in your bones that taking feedback does not mean acting on or agreeing to it—is all about staying connected to your Power. Not Arrogance or Jerk energy, just calm, grounded Power where you stay centered in the truth that YOU are the author of this story, that YOU have shown up with courage and calm to get feedback, and that YOU can handle whatever is being said or how it is being said with grace and appreciation—even the icky-feeling stuff. You have got this.

When you do this, when you stay connected to your grounded, gracious Power and collect the feedback, then you will have the full set of feedback points to review, assess, and prioritize when you are out of the critique. And you may even find that some of those points, perhaps even some you might dismiss originally, have value later on. Who knows? But you won’t, if you short-circuit yourself from getting the data in the first place.

And there you have it. A few ideas for keeping yourself in your own lane while receiving a critique. Meaning not critiquing the critique. Shazam!

Onward in kindness,

Christine Carron, The Critique MD (and Little Radar)

[1] p. 7, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell, Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2019. In the passage in the book, Odell is discussing a specific listening technique called Deep Listening created by Pauline Oliveros.

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