9 tips for giving and receiving criticism

By Darby Jones

Comic by Debbie Ridpath available at inkygirl.com/

SUMMARY: Every day, church leaders provide feedback on sermons, graphic design, online content and more. Critiques can either ignite creative fire or, if delivered poorly, extinguish the creative spark and hinder productivity.

”If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction!” (Proverbs 12:1, The Message)

Giving and receiving criticism creatively and constructively is an art. Follow these tips on how to give and receive professional criticism.

1. If you dish it out, be willing to take it.
Learning from helpful criticism is one of the most efficient ways to increase your skills. You do not always have to implement an idea, but learn how graciously to accept it. If you decide the feedback does not align with the goals of the project, then you must have a conversation with those making it. For example, a graphic designer with integrity will strive to make the pastor or committee happy, while educating them about design process and what works visually.

Whether you take the advice or not, use the critique as a discussion starter for how best to express the message.

2. RSVP with love.
Always start your critique with something positive. This is the most important rule. Skip over the flaws at first and praise the strengths. As a general principle, lift people up first so they do not feel so let down when you discuss a weakness.

Example: “This paragraph is clear and conversational. The imagery is colorful and vivid. However, one way to make this even stronger would be to delete some of the cliché phrases such as . . .”

At the same time, avoid switching back and forth between praise and criticism of the work. To do so, sends mixed messages.  

3. Don’t crash the party.
Some people cannot handle an uninvited critique.  Remember, people are more important than a project. If educating people for whom your critique style does not work, it may be wise to focus more energy on those who embrace your feedback. Be careful: Some people ask for feedback when they really mean praise. You will figure out quickly who is sincere and who is not. Do not waste time on those who only want their egos stroked.

4. Don’t come empty-handed.
Bring something to the table. Give considerable time and thought to your feedback. Give feedback in person, if possible so you can see how it is received. Give written critiques a couple of reads and think about how the communication will be received. Off-the-cuff feedback is obvious to those who want honesty. Watered-down or vague comments, even if positive, can be viewed negatively.

5. Devour the food, not your friend.
Direct feedback toward the product, not the person. Always refer to the design, the sentence or the paragraph. Critique the work, not the one who produced it. Be both tactful and honest when pointing out flaws.

6. Leave your shoes at the door.
Thoughtful criticism involves separating personal preference from the quality of the work. Leave your preferences behind and be objective, even if the piece is not your style.

7. Help clean up afterward.
Explain shortfalls with grace. Avoid negative comments such as “this is wrong” or the one-word stinger, “boring.” Instead, be positive and give suggestions such as:

  • This would be better if . . . .
  • Another idea here would be to . . . .
  • This paragraph could be more exciting if you . . . .

If someone asks for your opinion, he or she respects it. So return the respect and critique in a way that is conducive to learning. When possible, offer concrete suggestions instead of vague ideas.

8. Say “thanks” the next day.
No matter how encouraging your words are, some people will feel hurt after hearing their work needs significant improvement. Some may give up. Be sure to check back and see how they are doing. Ask how the piece is coming along and if your comments were helpful. Offer additional feedback after a revision only if necessary or if invited to do so.

Writers, designers and leaders are generally emotionally attached to their ideas. Approach the opportunity to critique with care.

Be prepared for awkward silence. Smile. It only lasts a few seconds. Soon giving constructive criticism will become natural. And those who love to learn will hit the road running with motivation.

9. Get ready for the next party!
It’s time for Bible study! These verses will help you think about giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV): Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Proverbs 13:18: Poverty and disgrace are for the one who ignores instruction, but one who heeds reproof is honored.

Comics by Debbie Ridpath available at inkygirl.com

-- Darby Jones, eMarketing Coordinator at United Methodist Communications.

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