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!  🙂