The main barrier to communication is thinking you know what someone is thinking. We see this play out in all our interpersonal dynamics—assuming that someone is acting ill of us and retaliating. Or, on a more neutral note, assuming that a writer is on the same page as you when they don’t even have the same book as you and are awaiting your prologue. Often times, clients are immersed in their field, job, or area of expertise to an extent that they live and breathe it and have such familiarity that they take for granted explaining aspects to a writer they’ve hired for a project. So, how can we as writers, as clients, as humans give and take criticism with clarity and kindness? Let’s dive in.
Soften Your Words
Give criticism in a way that isn’t about making you feel superior and someone else feel inferior, but in a way that displays you have respect and goodwill toward that person. Often this can mean starting your feedback with what you appreciated about their efforts and then diving into your problems and questions with it. Instead of saying “You’re doing it all wrong,” say, “Could you change your approach? I imagined x here and wanted y emphasized.” Instead of saying, “You lost track of all the numbers I needed,” you could say, “I noticed there were some numbers missing here; could you tell me why?”
You might think that softening your blows is dishonest or even patronizing. Don’t deliver it in an insincere, patronizing way; just be honest in a compassionate way instead. You know how you feel when someone criticizes you or your work; think of what would work with you. You may claim you can take criticism and want it direct and curt. Perfect, you can still be direct AND respectful.
“I See” vs “You Did”
Try keeping your feedback in your first person perspective to minimize someone’s knee-jerk defensiveness. When you say “You did x” instead of “I wondered why you did x,” you ignite your responder’s need to defend themselves. But when you say “I wondered why you did x,” you’re emphasizing your perspective in first person and then asking them a question. It’s a more disarming way to communicate with someone.
Own Up To Your Part
Every dynamic is a two-way street. When you have the courage and integrity to own up to your own mistakes and take responsibility for your part in a miscommunication, you signal to the other person that they too can admit fault. They feel safe and seen because you are not just blaming but owning up to your responsibility. It’s a great way to get everything clear and out on the table instead of being in a hedging and avoiding argument. Plus, it builds trust because people don’t see you as a shifty defensive type and they tend to parallel your high ground.
Seek To Understand Instead of Assert
If we’ve already assumed they’re wrong, we’ve shut down to the point where it can only lead to accuse and defend. This really severs all hope of actual resolution because it’s no longer about solving the problem but defending actions/egos. Our perspectives are an interpretation, not a rigid, objective truth, so try your best not to get stuck on being right. Try to be more curious, rather than certain and be open and receptive.
But Don’t Be A Pushover
All that said, you cannot soften so much that you’re seen as someone to push the limits, take advantage of, or play a pity card to manipulate. If you pad your criticism in too many marshmallows when someone was attempting to bypass an honest effort, then you DO have to call them out on it. If you get the feeling that someone made careless mistakes and is trying to play the pity card so that you are lenient on them, then show leniency with limits. Say that “I feel like you didn’t read over the style guidelines and want to remind you x. I understand you had some problems, but ask me at the beginning rather than the end.”
If you’re a kind person with clear boundaries, you truly earn the respect and trust of people in every encounter. You balance a sincerity, sense of responsibility, and instill in people a desire to earn your respect and appreciation. If you’re looking for conscientious, responsible writers, check out WriterAccess; you’ll find writers that communicate and respond well to this type of clarity and kindness.
Samantha S writes direct, dynamic, digestible copy for any purpose and any medium. She has written for apps, games, websites, literary journals, trade magazines, newspapers, e-commerce brands and health//nutrition brands. Samantha’s most notable achievements are authoring a guidebook for College Prowler, interviewing Leonardo Dicaprio, Zac Efron, and Amy Sherman-Palladino for The Hollywood Reporter, reviewing books for Publishers Weekly, covering the World Series of Poker, teaching creative writing at Harvard-Westlake, and working as Editor-in-Chief of The Oval literary magazine.