A Lesson in Critiquing via The Voice

Just a note: I’m going to change my regular blogging day to Monday for at least the rest of the school year.  Wednesday is a full day of work, and I’m not around to respond to comments, which I love to do!  That’s it, now on to today’s post.

No matter what you do, at some point in everyone’s life, you will be asked to evaluate, critique, or review something.  Here’s a quick lesson on some things that do and do not make for effective, constructive criticism.  I’ll be using NBC’s The Voice to showcase.

Let’s start with ineffective.

The Misdirect (perfected by Blake Shelton)

When you can’t think of anything positive to say, or perhaps you can’t be bothered to give it much thought (maybe you weren’t paying attention), but you have to say something, picking out something from the peripheral seems like a good idea, right?

“Dude, I was totally fixated on the Egyptian male strippers on stage. …  Yeah, male strippers.”

Riight.  Tip 1: Feedback of any kind should be about the work.  And since books are my field, I’ll give you another example: “The cover really captivated my attention.”  …  Yes?  And?  The actual story?

Okay, next.

Bashing/Making it personal (see Christina Aguilera)

Being outright mean doesn’t help anyone work towards improvement, and making judgmental statements about the person doesn’t give them anything specific to work on.  It just says, “I hate you, so get a day job.”  Everyone can improve if they work hard, and that’s the purpose of feedback/coaching.

“I find you one-dimensional.”

Ouch.  Again, this comment doesn’t reflect on the work being evaluated, but instead focuses on the person behind it.  How is this singer, Tony Luuca, supposed to work on improving his work with a comment like that?  It doesn’t contain any direction.  In this singer’s case, Christina could have said that song felt one-dimensional, or that particular delivery didn’t vary enough for her taste.  But she made it personal and tried to make Tony feel bad.

So again, make whatever you have to say focus on the work being evaluated.

Out of Left Field (courtesy of Cee Lo Green) or, The Table-Turner

I can’t really explain the motive behind this one…uh, Cee Lo appeared stoned one night, so drugs are always an understandable reason.  So make that Tip 2: Be sober when giving feedback.  I also knew someone like this who did it for laughs.  But then it becomes about you, and not the artist, author, book, etc.

“You’re such a beautiful creature.”

Um, thanks?  Beautiful is a nice word; not sure how I feel about being called a creature.  Kind of sexist if you ask me.  And most of the female artists went into the blind auditions wanting to be judged on their voices, not their looks (even the pretty ones didn’t want to win because they were pretty!)  And the feedback they get?  “You’re gorgeous, baby.”  Yeah, they were probably hoping for something a little more constructive—about the work!

Not all hope is lost for these contestants, however!  Adam Levine seems to be the only coach taking his role seriously.

Constructive Criticism (thank you, Adam)

Constructive criticism highlights positive and negatives.  One popular method for this is the sandwich: positive, negative, positive.  It also talks about the work specifically.

“You incorporated what I advised you to do, and that was great.  I would have liked to see this for this type of song.”

Specific, to the point, and gives the singer something tangible to work on for next time.  It doesn’t comment on the singer’s value as a person.  Sure, hearing something wasn’t successful when you tried for that isn’t fun.  But how else will you learn?  That thing didn’t work, so try something else.

So the next time you find yourself in a position to give an opinion on something, whether it be a book review or a peer’s performance in some task (school or work), think about what will be specific and relevant, and give it in good spirit.  And if you can’t think of anything to say, maybe it would just be better if you stayed silent, and didn’t try to comment on the upholstery.  The misdirect really isn’t that subtle.  😉

Though I won’t be on my blog on Wednesdays, I will be guest posting on Marcia Richards’s blog this Wednesday about strong, smart, and sexy women and how I write them in my books.  So head on over later this week!  🙂

20 comments on “A Lesson in Critiquing via The Voice

  1. This was a great way to demonstrate your point! Receiving tangible criticism is the only way we can improve.

    • Thanks, Patricia. I’ve been lucky enough not to work with someone who took to personal bashing, but I’ve experienced the other kinds. And right now I’m working with the most amazing critique partners. I’m very blessed. (Shout out to you know who you are!)

  2. Brilliant way to illustrate this Angela. And oh so true!

  3. I found my here from twitter. Specifically from a tweet via @TameriEtherton. I really enjoyed your post today and I’m bookmarking it for my writing/critique group to view. Great blog too.

  4. LOL This is such a clever post because it’s so true! Thanks.

  5. Debra Kristi says:

    Excellent way to get your point across Angela! All so very true. I love the way you did this. 😀

  6. I would have hit the like button twice on this if I could. So often the kind of feedback we get is vague, peripheral, or directed at us as a person rather than at the work we need help with, and that’s so frustrating. If someone tells me how I can improve, I’ll work hard to fix the problem, but if I don’t know what specifically isn’t working, there’s nothing I can do.

    • Hey, Marcy. I think that’s why I love getting feedback so much now–I’ve been blessed enough to work with some amazing people who give me very specific things to work on. It makes me excited to tackle things.

  7. Elena Aitken says:

    I LOVE this post! You nailed it, Angela.
    Brilliant examples of feedback. And…entertaining.
    I feel the same way about these judges/coaches. 🙂

  8. Those totally nail it! If you’re giving advice/criticism it’s always best to remember the whole point is to make the work better. Even negative critiques can help if they are about the work and not the person. Great post, Angela!! I’m also totally loving the new look. Gorgeous!

  9. Thanks for this – it’s so hard to explain what a helpful critique is, but you did it beautifully. And, you’re right, negative hurts but constructive negative *is* helpful. As opposed to random mutterings, out-of-left-field or not-about-the-work comments. Great post!

  10. Excellent advice, Angela. I’ve always tried to use the sandwich method, especially in critique groups. But when I can’t do that, I try to remain silent and not clog up the writer’s head with fake praise or harsh realities. I figure if I’m not seeing something good, I’m having a bad day and there’s no reason to inflict it on someone else.

    • That is a great way to think about it, Bridgette! I know when I’m grumpy, and there is definitely no reason why I should make other people feel the same. It certainly won’t cure my own negativity, but will probably just make it worse!

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