We have moved past the time when criticism was limited to professional critics. All of us get to do that now. Perhaps we’d like to evaluate a café or restaurant, so that others know what to expect as well. Or suggest a movie or TV series to a friend. Or discuss our child’s homework or drawing. Today, whether we like it or not, we are all critics.
Meanwhile, mere kudos may sound phony, even when we genuinely want to praise someone. First of all, because nothing is perfect. On the other hand, nobody really likes it when something far from perfect is being praised—particularly when the recipient of our appraisal is well aware of its flaws.
“Constructive criticism” is a somewhat trite concept. Many people don’t even believe that something of sorts even exists. However, certain rules can, in fact, turn criticism into praise. The rules are as follows:
Show some respect—would you say the same in person?
I’ve established a simple rule for myself: “would I say the same in person?” Today, it’s easy to post a cynical status, mock a stranger or make fun of an establishment, which, is oftentimes the right thing to do and much needed at that. But mostly, it is easy to overdo it.
Before I put my criticism into words, I try to ask myself, whether or not I would use the same exact words with the person sitting across from me. Would I say the same?
Oftentimes, the answer is “yes, sir!” This burger was definitely too dry. I got really bored towards the second half of the movie. However, there are times when I put an otherwise harsh opinion into much milder words.
That’s because when you write something, you are basically saying it in person. Everyone reads everything—particularly the negative parts.
Don’t make it personal—separate people from their actions!
Can’t you recall a time when, for example, your teacher poured scorn on you—telling you how dismal your homework was and blaming it on you not giving a damn about your teacher, your parents and the future of Georgia as well?
Or haven’t people been scolded for singing a song terribly, followed with disapproval of their ability to tell the good and the bad apart and their general lack of taste?
Perhaps, neither the homework nor that song was decent. “I didn’t like your writing” and “I didn’t enjoy the song that much” are not really offensive. No, really, they can seriously take a chill pill.
But the reason why it all came out so bad is a separate topic. What if I was sick and that’s why I didn’t manage to write it well? Or what if I wanted to “appeal to the masses” and that’s why I recorded that song?
If you don’t know, don’t assume.
This is a continuation of the previous one. It is basically the same, but from a slightly different angle.
Let’s say, I had a burger that was really very dry. At times like this, it’s easy to carpet the person that made it. You can say that they have no idea how to cook. Or that they don’t have the slightest idea what a real burger tastes like. And that they actually think that meat should be dry.
But we don’t really know any of that. What if they do actually know how to make a burger, but this one did not work out? Or what if this is how everybody else likes their meat and that is precisely why it is made that way?
“The burger was a bit too dry for me. I could barely swallow it. Plus, all I could taste was ketchup”—if anyone was offended by this from of feedback, once again, they can take a chill pill. But I can definitely see why “they think that a good burger is a combination of ketchup and coal” would be upsetting. Assumption is the evil mother of all mistakes.
What would have been better
These are the worst forms of criticism in the world: “I expected more” and “It’s good, but it could’ve been better.”
Nobody cares. Who knows what you were expecting and why? And anything could have been better.
Saying something nice does not necessary entail praise or flattery. Oftentimes, saying something nice is about looking the other person in the eye and explaining: “I know what you meant. I think you did a great job on this one. On the other hand, this would have been better.”
Criticism from the heart is often better than heartless flattery. It shows that you have thought about something that another person did, truly experienced it and let it move you.
So, isn’t this form of criticism really a way of saying something nice?