Have you ever told a friend that they look fat in a pair of pants? Or that they have a terrible haircut? I’m sure that you’ve done something like this at least once in your life… and it’s probably happened to you as well.
How did the person receive the criticism? Did they appreciate your honesty and attempt to help them right their particular wrong? Or did they lash out at you because you hurt their feelings? How did you react when it happened to you?
An individual’s reaction to criticism often depends on the relationship between the two parties involved. Two friends can “criticize” each other when they have a strong relationship – that is, they know each other well and any critiques are meant to help the other person. But being criticized by a stranger, a colleague or someone you are not well connected with is a recipe for backlash, hurt feelings and other forms of disaster. You must always tread lightly.
Early in my editing career, I thought that I could demonstrate my editing skills by contacting random companies and pointing out the flaws in their content, such as spelling errors in advertising materials. I have heard other editors discussing the same strategy. It rarely worked then, and it rarely works today. Generally speaking, people don’t appreciate being told by strangers that they’ve done something wrong. Companies are not machines – they are run by people. Criticizing a company’s work to gain work is not an effective strategy because people do not like being criticized by strangers. It does work in some cases, but I believe that it turns away more people than it attracts.
Case in point: I was approached a photographer who said that my online profile picture was very amateurish, and she could help me to improve my appearance with a professional photo. That is probably true, but I would probably seek someone else out to provide this service because it came off as more of an insult… and an appeal to use her services. I am sure that she would do a great job, but she did not try to form a relationship first. She pointed out my problem and said that she could fix it. It might benefit both of us, but she’s only thinking about what she can do to help herself first.
Telling me that I have flat tire is one thing – telling me that I look like an amateur is another. It’s not the best way to get me to use your services.
Have you given or received criticism? How did it go? Let me know – firstname.lastname@example.org.