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How To Give Good (Non-Professional) Criticism

A Quick Guide Awaits

Welcome! To My short guide of giving good criticism, if you come from my previous article Be More Than Fluff then I appreciate the follow up. If you haven’t check it out, be sure to read it before or after, no particular order is required.

The reason I specified Non-Professional criticism its because you can’t ever expect to be from a different field and give good professional advice as a default — unless you have insider information on the industry criteria. If you’re a jack of all trades and know a bit about everything then good for you, but I find it good practice to know one’s place and give feedback respecting people’s careers & pursuits by understanding the limits of your professional knowledge. With that the first tip,

Know Your Place

When giving feedback one cannot assume a place of superiority or high ego complex because whatever comes out of your mouth is going to sound condescending. If you are not from the industry don’t give criticism like you’re the expert or somehow know more than the person about their own career or pursuit.

Separate Objective from Subjective

Objectivity(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Subjectivity(of a person or their judgment) based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

I define them, not because I don’t think my reader would know the difference, but because I have been asked quite frequently the difference between the two in normal day to day conversation. I usually have these definitions at hand to illustrate through comparison the stark difference those words have even if commonly used interchangeably.

Now, some might argue that criticism is a form of subjective evaluation, because largely your course of evaluation is a subjective process. And while I would agree with that sentiment in its entirety, there is space for objectivity within criticism. For example,

A photograph that the subject matter is not centered.
It is objective to say, your subject matter is not centered.
It is subjective to say, because of it I don’t like the image.

Whenever You Postulate a Position Subjective or Objective, Explain Why

Criticism of work is worthless if the person criticizing doesn’t have critical thinking attached. Don’t just say you don’t like the colors or the composition is weird or the formatting is distracting. Those are useless opinions that do nothing to advance the conversation until you explain why. The why of your perceptions, thoughts and postulations is where the real criticism exists— because it allows the person to glimpse into the psyche of those experiencing their work.

The Secret Formula

[Good] + [Bad] + [How it could be improved] + [End on a positive note]

I posted this formula in my previous article and explained it lightly as follows:

Preface with the good to get them excited about the post, hit them with the bad, but never without offering suggestions or solutions, and then — always end on a positive note, to soften the blow or to simply let them know that you mean nothing of it personally, just some constructive criticism.

– Be More Than Fluff

This was generated on the thought that it would be used for commenting on posts. The same formula applies to conversation and physical interactions. I will break it down more thoroughly:

Why Start with the Good?

Well people get defensive and over-protective about their work due the effort evolved and general attachment. So, if you just start straight with the bad there is a huge chance they will be in a bad mood for the rest of the conversation. Bypass the drama. Start by emphasizing the best in whatever it is you are critiquing, in other words the strengths of the overall intention. Some people come in and say “what if there isn’t anything” and that’s just lack of vision, there is always something positive within the context — even if its the effort or the fact that they did it is something. You can fish positive things to say (that are true) to bring the overall mood of the critique into the high spirits category.

Hit em’ with the Bad!

Be nice and polite. It’s the humbling part of the conversation and the one that should be dealt with the utmost finesse. Don’t humiliate, just illustrate. Illustrate your point, where it comes from and why you think this way. In this step more than ever you should really separate objective from subjective, and if the person get’s too agitated remind them it is simply your opinion.

Solutions or Shut up

Never, ever give criticism without having answers or being very clear and vocal about you identifying a problem but having no solutions for it. If you haven’t been able to even hint at a solution what makes you equipped to demand new solutions?

Always End on a Positive Note

At this point, its been quite the emotional rollercoaster for the person receiving criticism, the best you can do is throw them a niceness hypothetical bone that let’s them know it’s all in good faith and you’re excited to see their progress, journey and achievements.

Bonus Points if You’re Funny!

Don’t be disrespectful, but definitely if you can make the entire experience positive, make the person laugh and just enjoy the conversation about their work, there really is no bad way to give criticism. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, how would I want to be criticized?

My name is Andrea Arias! I am an Aspiring Architect. My goal is to help design sustainable cities of tomorrow, build in outer space & help people be successful. If you liked this article, give me a like, comment, and a follow, so I can understand my readers better and craft better articles in the future! Stay tuned for more.


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