Criticism Is Gold

    June 17, 2003

Suppose you received the following message from a reader of your newsletter. How would you handle it?

> … I don’t know what your talking about. You don’t
> make things clear like your supposed to. And I didn’t
> read all those pages of data to find out. I get board
> and couldn’t finish it. [More of the same. Some
> meaningless suggestions. Wraps with …] >
> I been there did that. Take it from one who is now
> making 20,000 a month income.

Trash It?
Never! Big mistake. Awesome mistake, in fact. There are nuggets of pure gold in this. And it doesn’t take much to find them.

But He’s Lying!
Of course. Nobody is making $20,000 a month with this kind of spelling and grammar. But that he is lying, is not important. Here is the point.

He *Did* Write!
Not many do. He felt strongly enough about the matter to take the time to write. How many others felt much the same way, but did not comment? There’s no way to be certain, really, but to be safe, assume he represents a bunch.

Then you simply can not ignore this fellow’s message. At least not until you seriously consider that he may be right. If he is, major changes may be called for.

Read the message again. But this time, ask yourself …

What is he really saying.?
Something like this maybe. “I couldn’t follow all that data [too hard], so I got bored [frustrated] and couldn’t finish it [trashed it].”

So Where’s The Gold?
If this fellow represents a significant part of your target, you missed. Big time, in fact. Examine the article referred to.

  • Does the topic have merit to your readers?
  • Is the writing level targeted appropriately?
  • Could you have presented the material more clearly? More simply? In briefer form?
  • Does the copy sustain interest? Does each word, line, and paragraph draw the reader into the next?
  • Does all content support the topic?
  • Can a word, line, or paragraph be deleted?

The above is intended to be suggestive of things to consider, not a complete listing of any sort. The idea is to see if you can find anything about this piece that would improve it to the point it would be acceptable to the fellow who wrote.

Often you can’t. There are people who will not be able to follow even your best, most straightforward work. But if you can find anything at all to take into your next article, it may prove to be invaluable.

In The Real World
Here’s a bit that has happened to me more than once while teaching. Upon finishing what I knew was a really great presentation to a class, and starting back to my desk, the class clown would blurt out something like, “What’s all that junk mean, Teach?”

Let me tell you, it can take your breath away. My first reaction might easily be a strong desire to pop him one, as I might have wanted to do since meeting him.

But it’s not just him. There are others. As I glance about, it hits me. Half the class feels the same way, including many of the better students. It’s etched in their faces and eyes. None but the “clown” spoke up. How did I handle something like this?

Take a deep breath, turn back to the class, and say something like, “That didn’t work, did it?” A great nodding of heads. “Okay, forget that assignment. I’ll take another crack at it tomorrow.” Great sighs of relief.

I learned a lot from my students. In some ways, more than they learned from me. To extend this, I have learned a lot from writing. You must do so or you do not grow. The secret is to turn blistering criticism into gold.

In The Email World
With email, you haven’t got the help of body language, the blank expression, eyes that shout of puzzlement or confusion. You have only the words you are reading. It makes things a lot tougher. But one way or another you must dig into the thinking behind the words sent to you. And the harsher the message, the more important it is to dig.

Nice Things Don’t Help
We all love to hear nice things about ourselves or our work. They encourage us enormously. But they are no help at all in finding a better way to accomplish a given task.

But criticism is another matter. If you examine it with care, you can find pure gold. First uncover the real message behind the comment or note. Then be honest with yourself and act upon that message if there is merit in it.

Be Sure To Say Thanks
I always reply promptly to such a message. Maybe: Thanks much for your input. I really appreciate it. It helps a lot to know what my readers are thinking. I’m sure my future work will be better for it.

You may not make a friend here, but the fellow is likely to feel better about himself, you, and your work.

Bob McElwain, author of “Your Path To Success.” How to build ANY business you want, just the way you want it, with only pocket money.
Get ANSWERS. Subscribe to “STAT News” now!

Phone: 209-742-6349