5 Ways to Be a Better Critic

With the rise of every possible outlet for expression via social media, literally everyone is a critic. Even the handy thumbs up of the ‘Like’ on Facebook gets it’s origins in actual critic scores. Disturbing practices like ‘Hot or Not’ are the norm for teens growing up in the US today. And, the average person’s feedback is elicited on a near constant basis- whether in the comments section of a popular news article or the bottom of receipt at the grocery store. We shop for schools, jobs, colleagues, friends, and partners online- where we can see people’s shiny profiles and their attributes listed out in tidy list form. And, the fall out, I think, has been that many of us have become spectators, watching what others say and do- and giving everything the mental thumbs up or thumbs down.

The thing is, I’m not against social media, or the ease and convenience all-things-internet has brought into my (or your) life. But, I do think we should take a moment to pause and consider whether or not the feedback we have to give is worth saying and worth and/or sharing at all. If you’re unsure, here’s a helpful guide…

5 Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE You Give Feedback:

  1. Would I say it in person? I have seen some hateful, hurtful things written online. And, not just between strangers, but among friends. If you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, consider whether it needs to be said. I’m all for clearing the air, but sometimes the feeling of anonymity a screen provides makes us feel invincible and impenetrable- when, in reality words still can and do hurt.
  2. Do I know what I’m talking about? Not only is everyone a critic, everyone’s an expert. If you’re about to engage in a critique of someone’s work, their thoughts, or their actions, ask yourself first if you know what you’re talking about. Too often, I see people spouting off opinions on social media without thinking through what they’re saying. This happens often in religious debates, politics, and racial/social justice discussions. Sure, everyone can have an opinion, but an opinion is not the same as fact. Consider that as you proceed in conversations with people- and display the grace and openness necessary to engage in a meaningful conversation.
  3. Do I need to say it? I know, it sound so simple. And yet, you’d be surprised how often people don’t ask themselves this question before pulling trigger (or clicking send.) To me, unless you’re their editor, you don’t need to be ‘that guy’ sending back emails to your friends with redlines through their grammar mistakes. We get it, you know English. But, seriously, nobody needs be worried about spell checking/grammar checking every casual text or email they send you. You don’t have to be the one to let a friend know their presentation at work went poorly, you don’t need to share that you’d like the lasagna a tad bit more if it just had more basil. Let. It. Go. This is key to being a gracious person. And, trust me, if you’re THIS person, you’ll be surprised how many more friends you have if you just start asking yourself this question before you give feedback/criticism/unnecessary complaints about everything.
  4. Do I have relationship with this person? The internet has made it possible to interact with people we don’t even know. This can be fun, challenging, or engaging at times but it can also be a downright waste of time. In the case of criticism, unless you’re a professional troll, don’t engage with random people on the internet. If you don’t have a relationship with someone it’s very, very, very hard to change their mind about anything. It’s only through meaningful discussions with people we care about that any of us has any hope of changing. So I’m just going to write this now to release you from your role as the internet’s vigilante: stop getting into comment section rants with randos.
  5. What’s the point? I know, again, it seems simple. And yet…Is there a point to what you’re about to say or are you just saying it because you like to hear words coming out of your own mouth? You might be surprised with the answer if you actually ask yourself this question BEFORE you criticize something.

So, the next time you’re tempted to share your thoughts/questions/concerns/comments consider these 5 questions! You may find you save time/energy/and relationships.

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