Constructive Criticism

In a professional environment, criticism is an inevitability, especially for those who work in the arts. Actors, directors, artists and musicians: you are not safe. In fact, nobody is safe, even the critics face regular criticism. Receiving criticism can often be an overwhelming prospect, nobody likes to sit helplessly while another person highlights the faults with something that they value.  

But fear not, because criticism is no bad thing.

Criticism is the lifeblood of creativity.

There are two types of criticism: destructive and constructive. Destructive criticism is the strand of feedback that we all fear, it relies heavily on the opinions of the critic, it offers no real solutions and it leaves us confused as to what it is that we are supposed to have done wrong. Destructive criticism is the ugly stepsister in the feedback family and has no place in artistic communities.

Constructive criticism, however, should be welcomed with open arms. It is a valuable tool to those that deliver some sort of creative service. It identifies issues and suggests changes that the recipient can make to improve in the future. This is the main reason why this type of criticism is so useful as it allows us to grow, develop and improve. The use of this type of criticism gives everybody involved in the arts a springboard from which they can propel themselves forward.

There are rules to follow when delivering constructive criticism to ensure that it remains constructive. Failing to deliver feedback properly can have a negative impact on the recipient: the arts are built on a sense of community which can be easily undermined through the use of destructive criticism.

Rule 1

Constructive criticism is based on a particular action or behaviour, it should not be related to personal aspects of the recipient’s life. The person giving feedback should be objective, aiming only to criticise behaviours that are relevant. If the behaviour can be changed or improved in any way then this should be suggested.  

Rule 2

The best feedback is always specific, it is important that the person giving the feedback has a clear understanding of the desired outcome. This way they can offer clear instruction or suggestions about behaviours that might work better in achieving these goals. The trick is to work with the recipient to achieve the outcome rather than simply telling them what to do or alienating them completely.  

Rule 3

Constructive criticism can lose its value if the timing isn’t right. There is no set time to deliver feedback and it is essentially at the discretion of the person who offers it. There are two key elements to consider when deciding on a time to deliver criticism.

The sooner feedback is given the better, it allows the recipient more time to think about how they can improve and allows them to work towards achieving their goal. Leaving it too long might result in a false sense of security for the recipient, if they don’t receive this promptly then they cannot be blamed for the assumption that their work is already acceptable.

However, the other element to consider is that the recipient should also be ready to hear the criticism. If they are in a fragile or emotional position then criticism may not have a positive effect, instead, give them the time that they need before delivering it as this will maximise productivity.

Rule 4

This is perhaps the most important rule to follow when delivering constructive criticism. Empathise with the recipient. When working to deadlines it may seem easier to be blunt and concise but this may not be how they need to hear their feedback. The person giving feedback should put themselves in their shoes and think about how they would like to be given criticism. This should make for a more constructive session.

Not only does it have the obvious benefit of improving the output of the recipients, but learning the skill of providing others with productive feedback allows people to improve themselves. As mentioned earlier the arts are built on community, if people can provide criticism to each other then the community thrives. If people can provide this for others, then they can do it for themselves as well, proving the real value of constructive criticism.

It may help to think of the behaviour in terms of a product, major companies such as Apple, Virgin and Amazon all request customer feedback after they make a purchase. They do this as a means of finding out how they can improve their service, offer something better or iron out any issues with their product. They seek out constructive criticism to make things better in the future, and although it may be on a more personal level for most people, it operates on the same principal.

Criticism may seem overwhelming at times, but when it is delivered properly and constructively it is nothing to be scared of. It helps us to improve and pushes us towards our goals. Learning how to give constructive criticism will not only help artistic communities to grow but aids us in assessing ourselves and helps us to work towards a stronger output.

Daniel Sefton

The Features Editor for How to Do Theatre, Daniel is into travel, popular culture and sometimes a combination of the two. He is obsessed with travelling and is keenly interested in all things marketing. His biggest influences are Alex Garland, David Ogilvy and Andy Warhol.