One Word Suggestion: Criticism

Welcome to One Word Suggestion.

Most people think improv is just for comedy or maybe jazz. But, really, it’s a tool for life. In each three minute episode of this series I use a single word, suggested by you, as a leaping off point to explore how having an improvisational mindset will help you perform at a higher level, both personally and professionally, whether you have a career on or off the stage.

This week’s word, criticism, was suggested by Todd.

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As it turns out, there’s an LMA alum and current performer who also happens to be a feedback expert.

And that person is Associate Professor Phillip Dawson, at Deakin University and he says “how we deal with criticism is one of the biggest influences on learning, creativity, and productivity.”

In fact, one of the major findings at the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning where Phillip works is that the ability to deal with criticism can be considered a superpower, because it unlocks opportunities for learning, and help us stay resilient.

Personally I learned this early in my career as a Creative Director. A huge part of that job is to critique other people’s ideas. Ideas they may have spent weeks and weeks of long days and nights developing, and most of which will never get made.

That’s the brutal truth about creative agencies. Ninety-nine per cent of the work is criticised to death. But the 1% of ideas that do survive are gold — and the key to keeping them alive is constructive criticism that pushes those ideas to the edge of greatness and beyond.

I would argue that criticism is critical to growth and improvement. Without it, everything becomes harder, new skills take longer to learn, nobody improves, work stays average or in many cases gets worse because people become dejected and lose confidence.

Part of the secret is to accepting criticism is to start by assuming positive intent on the part of the person delivering it. Chances are they really do just want to help. The other part is something I’ve noticed that most people who take criticism well all have in common:

They don’t interrupt, defend, protest or explain — they just listen. And maybe take notes.

This doesn’t mean you have to take any or all feedback on board. But if over time, you start to hear the same thing over and over, you might want to pay attention. Or as I like to say, “if people keep telling you that you have a tail, sooner or later, you’re gonna have to turn around and take a look.”

If someone has asked you for feedback, start by asking them what type of response they want.

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To quote Phillip again,

And the feedback you need to improve.

And if you’re giving feedback to someone who hasn’t asked for it, be sensitive and always frame it gently and fairly. Remember that you can’t know what’s going on for the person or group on the receiving end. They could be open and eager to improve and welcome your opinions, or they could be insecure, fearful, or even feeling like an imposter.

In over 20 years working as a leader in creative industries, I’ve only ever had one person respond badly to my compassionate criticism — and that was a CEO who burst into tears and ran out of the room. So you never know what’s going on in someone’s life or how they will respond.

The point is, we never really get taught how to deal with criticism, or that it’s something we should seek out. But it’s crucial for learning, productivity, creativity, and wellbeing.

Of course, criticism can sometimes be hard to hear, but it doesn’t have to hurt. If it’s delivered with good intentions and a genuine aspiration to help, the receiver will probably pick up on that, and be more open to hearing it.

And if you are able to share some solutions instead of just pointing out the problems, you’ll be loved for it.

So, that’s my take on criticism. Thanks for the great suggestion, Todd.

If you wanna suggest a word for next week or add your perspective, drop me a note in the comments or in a review. I’m making one of these every week for a year, so definitely subscribe, like, share, and all that jazz.

Or better yet, listen to the podcast.

And in the meantime, if you’re interested in improv for personal growth, professional achievement, or just for fun, my suggestion is to get yourself into an improv class or book a corporate training workshop for your team.

You can learn all about LMA’s programs at www.lma.training

Eran Thomson is the Founder of Zuper Superannuation, Laugh-Masters Academy, LMA Professional Development, Comedy & Co, and the Australian Improv Festival.

The One Word Suggestion podcast with Eran Thomson

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