Godin 04-25-10: Who Judges Your Work?

April 25, 2010

People who react with hostility to any criticism have a handicap. This is a key hallmark of a fragile self-esteem that, ironically, presents as self-adoration. Named for the mythological character who fell in love with his own reflection, the condition is called narcissism.

Sadly, some people think that in order to avoid this self-absorption, they have to give value to anyone else’s evaluation. Truth is, many people give their opinions freely although they don’t have the context or background to make their opinions useful. Others go the other direction, coloring their remarks with niceness and softening any criticism to the point of being useless.

It’s important for people who want to improve themselves and grow in meaningful ways to learn how to evaluate evaluations – how to critique other people’s critiques. When I was in a professional writers’ group for a few years, read-and-critique was part of our weekly meetings. I was taught early on that the thing to do with other people’s critique was to record it. That was it. Not arguing or defending our writing or criticizing the person giving the critique, but simply writing it down.

We were taught to consider the usefulness of the critique later, when we weren’t feeling defensive or emotional. We were taught to consider the comments rationally. Does that comment make sense? Does it show an awareness of the context? Does it follow general rules of quality narrative, or dialog, or action scenes? If a comment generated a lot of defensiveness, we were taught that might be the best gem. It might show us where we were overly devoted to a particular phrase, or where we had a habit we were “in love with” as a writer that really wasn’t working for the reader.

When we decided to set aside a piece of critique as irrelevant or not helpful, it was for a reason. Maybe the comment came from someone who didn’t realize the confusion was addressed in a prior passage. Maybe we discussed the feedback with someone else whose judgment we trusted to be completely honest and relevant and heard that person say the critique was off-target.

Knowing how to critique the critique we get is huge. This was the topic of one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts. Read it and add these ideas to your toolkit for evaluating other people’s evaluations of you.

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