Every now and then we find ourselves in the position where we have to offer polite criticism. And there's nothing wrong with that! I think sometimes people are too afraid of saying anything critical, lest they hurt feelings. But the truth is that without criticism, it's very hard to grow as an artist because we don't know what we need to do better (as an artist I tend to focus on artists in this blog, but of course you might also have to give constructive criticism in an academic or professional situation).
My favorite method, which I have seen recommended in various places, is the criticism sandwich. Some people call it a compliment sandwich, but that's silly because sandwiches are named after their filling, not their bread. You might also see it called by a more vulgar name, but this is a family-friendly blog. The criticism sandwich is very simple: First, you say something nice, then you offer your criticism (but phrased politely and with a suggestion on how to fix it), then you top it off with something else nice. As an example, if a friend sent you the first few chapters of your book and you felt that the dialog was really wooden, you would present it this way:
First, the bottom slice of tasty sourdough bread -- "The story sucked me in right away!"You may have noticed that my sandwich is grilled cheese. I love grilled cheese.
Then the gooey cheese in the middle -- "But the dialog felt a little awkward at times and pulled me out of the narration. I think you should really focus on how the conversations flow when you do your second draft."
Lastly, the second slice of delicious bread -- "The fast-paced action scene in chapter two was amazing, by the way! I can't wait to read what happens next!"
If you stick to this simple format, you can avoid hurting the feelings of all but the most thin-skinned creative types. You can also use it on yourself. My dance teacher once had us do this as a practice in class. We had to give ourselves criticism sandwiches, not because we had to learn to criticize ourselves but because we had to learn to be nice to ourselves. So instead of saying "Argh, I'm so frustrated, my shimmies suck!" We could say to ourselves, "I have great posture. My shimmies aren't very good right now so I should practice them every day this week. I'm also really happy with how my turns are progressing." I think that this is such a beautiful way to treat yourself. It's hard to get depressed about what you're struggling with when at the same time you remind yourself of what you're doing right.
Do you have an awkward situation that you need help with? E-mail me at Politelyworded@gmail.com and you could be featured in my next column!