How To Communicate and Respond to Criticisms.

Criticism is collaboration through conversation, not a one sided scolding.


I am currently collaborating with three different groups of dancers to choreograph and memorize three different dance routines for future performances in April. Each dance has a different purpose, style, and most importantly, I am working with three different groups of people. I have learned that while working with these different groups, it can be hard to communicate thoughts, especially ones that express disagreement! How do I go about saying I really don’t like the 5 counts of dance steps they created, or that I don’t like the way they lead a tuck and spin turn when they show up astutely every week and are working just as hard as I am? In addition, what happens when I get criticized? How should I respond, when instinctually I resort to feeling offended. What about when I feel like their critique is wrong or communicated in an inappropriate way?

It comes down to this: No one likes being criticized. Literally, I don’t know of one human that does. However, how are we supposed to grow if we don’t hear what we can improve on? Furthermore, we may be hindering others from progressing when we stay quiet in times where critique may result in extreme success. Before I continue, I want to preface that criticism is typically seen in a negative light. However, criticism is actually a very helpful and necessary conversation to have. I want to place heavy emphasis on the fact that criticism should be seen as a conversation, where two or more people are communicating thoughts of successes, disappointments, and how to adjust or completely change what is being criticized. Criticism is collaboration through conversation, not a one-sided scolding.

I believe criticism is hard to hear, as well as communicate, because people would much rather hear positive aspects about themselves, rather than something ‘negative’. In short, criticism hurts people’s egos. That being said, there must be a way to respectfully approach communicating criticism to one another. From my experience, I have learned some tips for the giver of criticism, that make criticizing easier to discuss with members of the group. In addition, I also have three tips for the receiver of criticism, and how the receiver can take those suggestions to benefit themselves and the group effort.

Tips for Communicating Criticism

  1. Always Start the Conversation with Positivity.
    If you intend to talk about a critique, you should always start the conversation with a relaxed tone, setting up an environment where every member feels comfortable, safe, and understood. This is very important, as an environment of understanding encourages every member in the group to contribute ideas as well as express themselves fully. Ways to set up a relaxed environment are to show you care about every member in the group. As simple as it may seem, ask how everyone’s day is going, ask what their plans for the weekend are, ask how they feel the group project is going. People love talking about themselves, so by providing listening ears, members of the group will see you not only as caring, but as having a genuine interest in the overall success of the group.
  2. Never Point the Finger When Stating Your Critique.
    There are several ways of speaking that you should avoid while critiquing someone. If you criticize using rhetorical questions such as, “Why didn’t you do x, y, and z?” you are placing the blame completely on them. By doing so, you are also creating a very negative environment for the person you are criticizing. No one likes feeling attacked. When voicing criticisms use phrases such as:
    “I feel…”
    “I think…”
    “I understand why you chose to do (x) this way, however what if…”
    These words directly communicate to the receiver that what you are about to say is a statement that you recognize as an opinion, not a fact that everyone will agree with.
  3. Always Follow the Critique with Suggestions. 
    Make sure you have ideas on how exactly you can solve, fix, or improve what you are critiquing. A disapproving statement that does not come with a recommendation, is like telling a person to do a trust fall with their eyes closed, and then letting them fall on their ass. It’s kind of a slap in the face for the receiver of the critique, and makes them question, ‘Well heck, it’s not like you have any better ideas!’ Which is completely understandable.

    The formula I use to make the receiver feel less attacked is:
    Maybe instead of (what you are critiquing), you should try (your suggestion), because (explain the reasoning behind the suggestion).” 
    This sentence is useful in several ways. First off, using the word ‘maybe’ communicates that you are making a proposal, not a command. Secondly, backing up your suggestion with reasoning communicates your rationale behind your suggestion. It adds validity to your ideas. Think of it as a persuasive speech. You wouldn’t tell the audience to do something, without backing up your ideas with scholarly research, right?

    Hey, you should stop wearing stick deodorant and eating Nutella.
    Hey, you should stop wearing stick deodorant and eating Nutella because there’s scientific research that it causes cancer. Instead, you can use those groovy new spray on deodorants and eat peanut butter because those things haven’t been proven to cause cancer, YET. 

    I think I’d be more likely to follow through with that second suggestion…wouldn’t you?!

  4. Always End by Giving Others a Chance to Respond to the Critique
    Sticking to the idea of keeping an open environment going, remember to always leave time for a response after your critique. Since you are the one that gave a critique, it is also your responsibility to encourage others to speak their mind about what you just said, as well as anything else they want to address. You can do this by asking:
    “What do you think?”
    “What do you feel about that idea?”
    “Do you have any suggestions for me? The group? About anything?”
    Lastly, when the meeting is finished, remember to thank everyone for their hard work and contribution to the team project!


So now that we have figured out how to appropriately critique, how do we appropriately respond?

Tips for Responding to Criticism

  1. Keep an Open Mind
    Do not outwardly show that you are offended once you hear the critique. I know. That’s easier said than done, but doing so allows for several things to occur. Firstly, it gives you some time to process the idea. It’s completely natural to feel a little offended after hearing a criticism, but usually there is some if not a lot of truth to every critique, especially if it’s coming from a sincere place (which if you are a good judge of character, you can figure out). Not outwardly showing offense, also presents tension from arising between group members. Look at critiques as collaborations, not negative assumptions or attacks.
  2. If You Disagree, Ask More Questions
    Say you gave yourself some time to consider the critique, and doggone it, you just don’t agree. Well what for sure not to do is become defensive. That just opens the door for arguments, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings to quickly creep in. Instead, a better way to communicate your disagreement is simply to ask more questions about the critique:
    “What specifically do you not like about (x).”
    “I feel that (x) is sufficient because (y).”
    “Let’s compromise. What if…”
    Remember that no one in this world understands your thoughts better than you, and that the only way to get others to see your point of view is if you unabashedly, but respectfully, express them.
  3. All Members Want the Project to Be The Best It Can Be
    Remind yourself that everyone in the group really has the best interest of the group at heart. Typically, there isn’t one member targeting another (and if there is, well that’s a whole other blog post), therefore critiques can be regarded as a building block for a favorable end result. Think of critiques as hugs. They show that someone cares enough to speak about their suggestions and are reminders that everyone is supporting one another! If you view critiques in this way, it’s nearly impossible to get offended 🙂

Ultimately, criticism is necessary for everyone, as it details not only the things one can work on, but also what one’s strengths are. While continuing to work on my dance performances, I will also keep these tips in my back pocket!

Until next time,
Heather Mei





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