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Dec 27 2012

Reconstructing Criticism

I am on a vacation I would like some time to enjoy and, well, this seems timely. A repost of a series.

How do you build up a movement with destructive criticism?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. But that doesn’t stop the makers of sites like You’re Not Helping from going flat-out negative, even when they’re offering “praise.” It doesn’t stop people from critiquing on Twitter, despite the sheer genius it would take to be both constructive and critical in 140 characters. (Note, not only are most of us not geniuses, but even those who may be geniuses are generally not the sort of genius required for effective short-form communication of difficult topics.) It doesn’t make bloggers reserve the shit-kicking boots for shit and not for imperfect allies.

Why? Oh, I don’t know. I’m not psychic. I have some theories, and if I were some pop psychologist trying to sell a book, I’d share them with you. I’m not. I’m just tired of seeing too many people and groups I care about waste their time and energy on hurting each other instead of defeating the common enemy.

Yes, I do mean waste. Destructive criticism breaks working relationships or makes them unlikely to form. It’s bad for the recipient, making them less effective and less ambitious. And it’s ineffective, leading to rejection of both the criticism and the person who delivered it. Unless your goal is mutually assured destruction, constructive criticism, when you must criticize, is the way to go.

So what does constructive criticism look like in the wild, particularly online? Essentially, it contains three elements: specificity, behavioral (rather than personal) orientation and positive recommendations for change. It sounds awfully simple for something that happens so rarely. Truth is, it is simple if you break it down far enough.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to work at breaking down constructive criticism in an online setting. I will attempt to keep it all in the realm of positive recommendations. Feel free to suggest topics you think I should cover, either up front or as the series goes on. I hope to end up with a fairly comprehensive how to, and I hope you find it useful.

The posts:

  • Reconstructing Criticism: Transparency
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Timing
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Praise
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Specifics
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Behavior
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Accuracy
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Collegiality
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Goals
  • Reconstructing Criticism: Work

3 comments

  1. 1
    Emu Sam

    Some possibly relevant topics: presumption of innocence, often tied in with not assigning to malice that which can be covered by sustained stupidity; forum/location; audience; public vs. private; when do you want constructive criticism and is there ever a time for destructive criticism; is it ever appropriate to look at how much criticism someone has already received and hold back, perhaps even if your specific criticism has not been addressed, and if so how do you judge if you’re in such a situation; asking for help, or asking someone else to criticize for you (for instance, someone closer who might be more readily listened to); is TL;DR a consideration, and particularly does it need to be weighed against Specifics; mass education in specificity, behavioral organization, and positive recommendations for change; practise hypotheticals and/or lots of examples.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    Excellent list, Emu Sam. I do mention a lot of that. I hope you get a chance to chime in on the various posts.

  3. 3
    Emu Sam

    Thank you. I’ll certainly read the whole series. I’m more of a lurker, but I’ll remember you asked me to contribute.

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